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These stories were published Wednesday, July 27, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 147
Jo Stuart
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Rejection in D.C. would let Pacheco off the hook
U.S. decision day on free trade is tomorrow
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The free trade focus today and tomorrow is on the U.S. House of Representatives.

House members have scheduled a vote for tomorrow on the Central American free trade agreement, technically known as H.R. 3045. However, the way the House calendar is set up a vote could come today.

The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives probably would not put the measure up for a vote unless they were sure they had the majority to pass it.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, characterized the trade pact as a "very important agreement" in his morning briefing Tuesday.

“This agreement is a good way to show our support for those young democracies that are emerging and have a strong commitment to the betterment of their people,” McClellan said, adding that these countries “need our support.” That was the same theme President George Bush has been hammering at for more than a month.

The trade agreement, already approved by the Senate, would help lower trade barriers with the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as the Dominican Republic, creating a leveled trading field for the parties involved, according to the Bush administration.

President Bush has pushed the measure strongly, and if the bill failed to pass, his presidency would be crippled. In addition, the president would lose a great deal of face in the Latin countries involved in the treaty.

Three, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, already have ratified the agreement in their own legislatures. If the measure failed in the House vote, the enabling legislation could come up again later, but that is unlikely.

In the United States unions, sugar beet growers and anti-Bush Democrats are aligned against the trade pact. Unions fear loss of jobs to cheaper Central American workers. Beet growers worry that cheaper Central American sugar will erode their market.

Many Democrats and others cite the North American Free Trade Treaty as a failed example of an international trade pact, even though the agreement was backed by Bill Clinton, himself a Democrat, who signed it in

1993. Clinton was host to three former presidents, two Republicans and one Democrat, at the signing ceremony.

If the U.S. measure fails to win passage, Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco will be off the hook.

Pacheco's administration negotiated the agreement from the Costa Rican side, but the president has shown reluctance in supporting the agreement and has adopted a neutral stance. To join the trade agreement, the document needs to be ratified by the Asamblea Legislativa here.

Pacheco has empaneled five citizens, including U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz, a Costa Rican native, to study the complex measure. Meanwhile a proposal is moving through the assembly here that would create a method to put any major question to a public referendum. Opinion polls show that a lot of Costa Ricans would like to vote on the trade measure, although hardly any have read it.

Any public vote would be more than a year away. The referendum measure, as it is written, would forbid a public vote on a governmental question six months before and six months after a presidential election, which will take place Feb. 6. The trade pact also may be found to contain fiscal and other issues that the proposed law says can never go to a public vote.

Pacheco and most of the legislative assembly will be mere citizens by May when a new president and chamber of deputies are sworn in. The decision on the trade pact may be left to the new arrivals, and the agreement, if passed in the United states, is sure to be a major campaign issue here.

Ironically, the public employee unions here, too, are foes of the trade pact. Their leaders are worried that opening up the marketplace here will undermine the national monopolies of insurance, communications and electricity.

Óscar Arias, so far the presidential front runner, supports the pact and even traveled to the United States to lobby for it. He is the candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional. Ottón Solís, another strong presidential hopeful, wants the document renegotiated. He, too, has lobbied in the United States. His party is the Partido Acción Ciudadana. Other candidates have been less vocal.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, July 27, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 147

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The little green things
will have their day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workers in La Uruca de Aserrí produce approximately 10 million jacotes every June, said the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.  That's over 333,000 a day. 

To celebrate their accomplishment, the townspeople are having a two-day fair starting Saturday where visitors can sample the fruits with syrup, brine, vinegar, jam, jelly and pickles among other flavors, the ministry said. 

Visitors also will have the chance to see how jacotes are harvested.  Sacks are tied to the trees to catch the fruits and keep them from injury when workers harvest them, the ministry said. 

A dance is also scheduled and clowns, a local band, and an ample menu of typical Costa Rican food will be there in addition to the jacotes, said the ministry

Jacotes are in the marketplace now in San José. They are plum-size green fruit that contain a large seed. the idea is to eat the skin and the tart flesh of the fruit and discard the seed. Ripe jacotes turn orange or red and are considerably less durable.

In addition to eating the fruit out of hand, Costa Ricans have been known to make an alcoholic beverage with jacotes as a base.

Rainforest center gets
money to buy land

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tirimbina Rainforest Center, a Milwaukee, Wis., organization that owns 300 hectares of land near the Río Sarapiqui in the northern zone, received two grants to purchase an adjoining 46.6 acres, said the organization.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird program gave the center $21,200 and the Felburn Foundation in Florida gave the program $50,000.

The land is 40 acres of former pasture and 6.6 acres of forest, said the organization.  A project is under way to develop the pasture back into rainforest.  

Seminar will stress
public access to info

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A seminar to teach people how to negotiate the Costa Rican legal system to gain access to public information is scheduled for Thursday at the Hotel Radisson Europa in north San José.

Topics include laws regarding the access of information, the jurisprudence of the Sala IV constitutional court, fundamentals and routes to get information and what to do if there is a denial.

The program is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.  More information is available from  Raúl Silesky at or 394-6779.

The seminar is being held by the U. N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión.  It will be in Spanish.  

Florida officials visit
Desamparados 'sister'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A committee from Miami Lakes, Fla. is visiting Desamparados to meet with a local delegation.  Officials from both cities hope to find cultural and economic aspects in common and ultimately declare the cities “sisters.”

The Miami Lakes group is made up of Mayor Wayne Slayton, vice mayor Roberto Alonso, adviser Carmela Starace, Police Chief Frank Bocanegra and 10 other government workers.  The group is planning to stay two days.    

Our reader opinions

He's looking for benefits
in Latin American trade

Dear AM Costa Rica:

Let’s talk about the money!

I was heartened to read that Franklin Chang, of the Council of Notables expressed a desire to see the DR-CAFTA agreement translated into language all Costa Ricans could understand, as it is indeed a formidable task to try and understand the 2,000-page text.  As I continue to read the DR-CAFTA agreement it has led me to a wealth of additional information to read and ponder, but make no mistake, it is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

There is no shortage of multinational American companies lining our borders waiting to bring their goods and services to Central America.
This will no doubt bring new employment and products to the Region.  Over 40 percent of Costa Rica’s imports now come from the United States, but one has to wonder whether this new-found prosperity generated by DR-CAFTA will be enough to offset the loss of duties and tariffs now collected by the Costa Rican government from those imports over the next 10-15 years, especially in light of the financial crisis’ facing governments with little money.

The main objective of publicly traded multinational companies is to produce more profits for shareholders.  They seek new markets around the world to steadily increase their bottom line. Here in the United States many of those companies are now eliminating employee jobs and benefits within their companies to boost profits in OUR slowing economy. (General Motors-25,000 jobs, Kodak-10,000 jobs, Winn-Dixie-22,000 jobs, Hewlett-Packer-14,500 jobs, Kimberly-Clark-6,000 jobs and Ford Motor Co.-10,000+ jobs) These are job losses announced just this month (July 2005.)  So it is imperative that these companies find NEW markets to increase revenues, but if these new markets cannot sustain the influx of goods and services, the promises of a“better life” will leave with them.

The U.S. expects to increase its exports of sugar by 166.4 percent, meat by 41.2 percent, dairy products by 25.8 percent, grain by 21.8 percent and vegetables, fruits and nuts by 14.2 percent as a result of this agreement (reported by the Trade Resource Center) to the region.  This will also increase the exportation of genetically modified products to the region. (More on this subject later.) Under a free trade agreement, the U.S. will export as much as the market can absorb even if those products are already available locally.  The US has recently moved into a retaliatory mode against the Eurpoean Community (thru the WTO) for blocking the free trade of U.S. beef products raised with synthetic hormones. This move on the part of the EC could potentially cost the U.S. cattle producers $300 million in losses of trade.  That kind of MONEY gets the attention and pressure of the U.S. government to act.

Now I am anxious to read more of the benefits to Central America associated with DR-CAFTA, as most of what I am finding is how this agreement will positively affect the US economy and growth but only vague references to “furthering the cause of democracy and improving the livestyle” of Central Americans.

David Mesmer
Pompano Beach, Florida
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'The Interpreter' probably will appeal to the blingual expats

There's plenty of choices at the local silver screen
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The summer movie season in the United States floods the theaters in San José with new movies.

But script writers in the north are running out of ideas because the theme for this U.S. summer seems to be remakes of old blockbusters. 

Rather than waste hard-earned colons as a result of poorly deciphered Spanish language movie trailers, here readers have a rough guide of some of the available flicks.

The Interpreter
Nicole Kidman plays Sylvia Broome, an African-born interpreter who inadvertently hears a death threat against an African head of state who is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly.  The problem is she can't get anyone to believe her, and now she's on the assassins' hit list.   

Sean Penn plays Tobin Keller, a federal agent who is charged with protecting Broome but doesn't trust her honesty. 

The thrust of the plot seems to be based on the Keller and Broome personalities bouncing off one another.  Broome, the interpreter, believes in the power of words.  Keller, the agent, believes only in reading people.

The War of the Worlds
The latest in a line of remakes of the classic H.G. Wells novel about an alien invasion.  The Stephen Spielberg-directed film stars Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier, a dysfunctional dockworker and not-so-great dad who just got his ex-wife to drop off his teenage son for a rare weekend visit. 

And wouldn't you know it, but tripod-riding, human-squashing aliens pick that day to attack. 

Guess Who
Bernie Mack plays Percy Jones, an  African-American man who takes great pride in knowing he's always right and is convinced that no one is good enough for his baby girl Theresa, played by Zoë Saldaña.  In fact, the long list of losers has so infuriated Percy that when Zoë announces that she is bringing home a new boyfriend, her father decides to run a credit check.

When Percy hears a knock on the door he's expecting a mix of Tiger Woods, Denzel Washington and Colin Powell.  But instead he gets the very white Simon Green played by Ashton Kutcher.  Simon immediately feels the pressure and will do anything to impress the man he hopes will eventually be his father-in-law.  Of course, hilarity and chaos ensue.

This computer-animated comedy features Ben Stiller as Marty the Lion, who is the main attraction at New York's Central Park Zoo.  There he lives with his best friends Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock).

One night Marty lets his curiosity get the best of him, and a group of conniving penguins talks him into breaking out of the zoo.  Marty intends to return by morning.  When his friends find out he's gone, they go looking for him and find him in Grand Central Station.  A group of well-intentioned humans loads them up to send them to freedom in Africa, but the boat is sabotaged by the penguins and the friends wash up on Madagascar.  More hilarity ensues.

Herbie: Fully Loaded
Lindsey Lohan stars as Maggie Peyton, the first in her family to graduate from college.  Her dad (Michael Keaton) decides to give her a graduation present.  Peyton has her eyes on a new Nissan but ends up with Herbie, the Volkswagen, instead. 

Her buddie Kevin (Justin Long) restores Herbie and she goes to a car show.  There she gets in a race with hot shot Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) and beats him. Trip challenges Maggie to a rematch and because of Herbie's stubbornness, Trip wins.  So to get even, Maggie and Herbie enter the Daytona 500. 

The Fantastic Four originally from Marvel Comics

House of Wax
A remake of the 1953 horror flick of the same name.  A group of college friends are road-tripping to a football game and break down near the sleepy town of Ambrose, La.  After camping out the night before the game, they wake up to find that their car might have been tampered with. 

They are forced to accept a ride into town from a creepy local and end up at the even creepier Trudy's House of Wax.  They figure out pretty quickly that they're supposed to be the next additions. 

The Navy has developed a fighter jet piloted by an artificial intelligence computer.  The jet is placed on an aircraft carrier to learn combat maneuvers from the human pilots aboard.  But when the plane develops a mind of its own, the human pilots have big problems. 

The Fantastic Four
The longest running Marvel Comic strip hits the big screen.  Mr. Fantastic is Reed Richards.  He can elongate his body.  Susan Storm — invisible woman — can not only turn herself invisible, she can make everything she touches invisible too.  Johnny Storm — human torch — can shoot fire from his finger tips and bend flames.  Ben Grimm is the thing, a horribly disfigured monster with superhuman strength.  They all must work together to battle the evil Dr. Doom. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Johnny Depp takes the roll of Willie Wonka in this remake of the 1971 classic "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." 

Little Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is a good kid from a poor family who lives in the shadow of Willie Wonka's marvelous chocolate factory.  For 15 years no one has seen anyone going in or out of the factory but mysteriously, huge amounts of chocolate are still beings shipped out daily.  Finally, one day, Willie Wonka makes the announcement that he will allow five lucky children into his factory.  These lucky winners will find golden tickets inside five random chocolate bars.  Luckily enough, Charlie finds one.  So he, along with his grandpa Joe (David Kelly), join four other children to tour the factory and meet Willie Wonka himself.  

If you like knives, you will like 'House of Wax'

Hospital fire probers still can't figure out who the last body is
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The body of a man found in the ashes of the July 12 Hospital Calderón Guardia blaze still is unidentified, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

A representation of what his face may have looked like has been produced.

The man remains the only one of the 19 dead who have not been identified. In addition to three nurses, 15 patients perished.

Investigators asked anyone with information on the man depicted in the drawing to call them.
Speculation is that the man came into the hospital to escape the light rain that fell during the evening of July 11.

Soccer federation will take steps to help children
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The children's agency of the United Nations known as UNICEF and the soccer federation of Latin America and the Caribbean have agreed to form a long-term partnership that will use the power of soccer to help children in the Americas.

The two groups announced the signing of an agreement that calls for joint efforts against the problems faced by young people in the region, particularly HIV/AIDS and violence against children.

The signing was held between two semifinal games of the 2005 Gold Cup at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, presented by the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). The United States won the CONCACAF 2005 Gold Cup tournament Sunday by defeating Panamá.  The Gold Cup, contested every two years, crowns the champion team of the region.

UNICEF offered a "snapshot" of the HIV/AIDS problems facing the region, noting that the Caribbean has the second-highest prevalence rate of the disease, behind sub-Saharan Africa.  Haiti is the most affected country in the region — 5.6 percent of the population lives with HIV/AIDS, said UNICEF — while almost 10 percent of all reported AIDS cases in Jamaica are among persons under 19 years of age.

UNICEF also said that only 43 percent of children orphaned due to AIDS in Honduras attend school, compared to 70 percent of non-orphans.
Another problem is that adolescents, especially females, are a group at increasingly high risk of contracting HIV.  The HIV/AIDS infection rate of girls between 15 years and 19 years of age in Trinidad and Tobago is five times higher than that among boys of the same age group.

UNICEF said 28 percent of murder victims in El Salvador in 2004 were boys between 10 years and 19 years of age, while more than 2,000 Honduran children were murdered between 1998 and 2002.

UNICEF representative Andres Franco said his agency believes that "sports and play must be part and parcel of every child's life," and he stressed the need for children, "especially children in the developing world," to "realize their right to play."  CONCACAF President Jack Warner added: "As the most popular sport in the world, football has the potential to be a tremendous power for good, especially for young people.  Through this relationship, we will explore ways to harness the power of football to have a positive impact on the lives of children across this region."

Soccer's global governing body, the International Federation of Football Association, based in Zurich, Switzerland, says that in times of conflict, post-conflict and emergencies, soccer can provide children and adolescents with a sense of hope and normalcy, help heal emotional scars and create a safe environment that enables children and adolescents to express themselves and build self-respect, self-confidence and trust.

U.N. expert says Ecuador broke rules on high court
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United Nations is urging speedy action by Ecuador's congress to end a crisis resulting from the dismissal of the country's supreme court in 2004.

The United Nations said that measures undertaken thus far by Ecuador's congress to form a new Supreme Court are insufficient, and violate the country's own constitution — as well as principles of the world body.

Leandro Despouy, a U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said Ecuador's congress had adopted a law approving rules that establish how a selection committee on the qualification and appointment of judges of a new supreme court operates.

Reporting on his visit this month to Ecuador, Despouy said that both the law adopted by Ecuador's congress and a decree on procedures on the final appointment of the supreme court's new judges contain a number of provisions that violate the country's constitution and the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.  Those U.N. principles, adopted in 1990, set guidelines
for judges and prosecutors and provide guarantees necessary for the defense of anyone charged with a crime.

Ecuador's judicial crisis stems from what the United Nations said was the illegal dismissal in November 2004 of 27 of the 31 supreme court judges, who were replaced with magistrates chosen by Ecuador's congress.  The supreme court's president resigned shortly thereafter.

Despouy said that it is important that all "actors and sectors" in Ecuador "be concerned about the resolution of this critical subject, the supreme court of justice, as it is in the interest of democracy."

A resolution of the crisis, he added, will represent a step away from the events that occurred in Ecuador during the past year, which culminated in April when Ecuador's then-president Lucio Gutiérrez was ousted in the wake of political turmoil in the country.

Despouy said he hoped he will be able to report to a session of the U.N. General Assembly in October that Ecuador had taken "important steps on the full re-establishment of the rule of law" in the country.

Jo Stuart
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