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(506) 223-1327       Published Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 153       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Work continued at the new airport terminal Wednesday despite financial squabbles
Airport deal continues to be a soap opera
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The long-running drama over operations at Juan Santamaría airport took another turn Tuesday when the Contraloría General de la República rejected a change in the nation's contract with Alterra Partners.

The decision by the Contraloría, the financial watchdog, effectively voided a deal Alterra has made with the Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil that supervises the airport.

The net result is an additional delay in  improvements at the nation's main airport. A new international terminal is being built, and the government has a list of other jobs for Alterra.

Even though the airport is important, the implications of the long-playing soap opera at the airport cut to the core of the current administration's plan for development. Alterra is a concessionaire, a private firm selected to do a public function: run the airport.

The Óscar Arias administration has plans for many other concessions in the country, and a new law covering the awarding of such pacts is was passed July 25 in the new legislature.

In a concession, a private company puts up money to do a job and splits the income with the state. Costa Rica wins because it does not have to come up with front money for large projects. The concessionaire wins because it gets income that is supposed to represent a fair return on its investment.

Last May the government said that a Czech firm has made a $120 million offer to improve the nation's railways under a proposed concession.

Concessions are being used to improve and run the nation's docks.

Several new highways will be built as concessions, including the route from Ciudad Colón to Caldera and the Pacific. An agreement was signed March 9 that empowers the firm Autopista del Sol S.A to build the $150 millionhighway and collect tolls to pay for it over the next 25 years.
Gold mining in Miramar and in northern Costa Rica are run as concessions with the government getting a share of the proceeds.

Costa Rica already got in trouble by effectively nullifying the exploration concession it granted to Harken Petroleum for the Caribbean coast. The long-running Alterra saga has been a concern for companies that might try to bid for concessions here.

This is the third time that the Contraloría has rejected proposed changes in the Alterra contract. This time Alterra, part of the London, England-based, Alterra Partners Ltd., was going to get 65 percent of the income generated.

Alterra took control of the airport in 2001 with a concession contract that was expected to last 20 years. The government at first was going to receive 50 percent of the income.

Alterra Partners was to invest $240 million during the 20 years. About $160 million of this was to be invested during the first three years of the agreement.

Karla González, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, the parent organization of the aviation consejo, further muddied the waters. She told reporters that the government would insure the airport would continue to operate up to international standards. That gave the impression that Alterra was packing its bags.

In the past the government has threatened to take over management of the airport, but the threats have not been taken seriously because Obras Públicas is the same organization that can't fix potholes in the nation's roads. It is unlikely the agency could generate the money to build a new control tower and extend the runways.

Meanwhile Alterra is getting squeezed by its investors and subcontractors, which have lost money and work because of the flip-flops by Costa Rica.

Not everyone favors concessions. The Partido Acción Ciudadana applauded the action by the Contraloría. The party wants the country to keep close control of its facilities. An independent legislator also opposes the idea.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 153

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U.S. has consumer pact
with Costa Rican ministry

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Costa Rica’s consumer protection authority, the Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Commerce, have signed a memorandum of understanding to promote enhanced cooperation in the fight against cross-border fraud.

The agreement is an effort to crack down on telephone and Internet fraud of U.S. citizens that originate in Costa Rica. Current developments to fight cross-border crime here are based on this document that was signed earlier this year.

The memorandum facilitates greater law enforcement coordination in consumer protection matters affecting both nations. This memorandum is a  "best efforts"  agreement — it is not legally binding and does not alter either country’s existing consumer protection laws, the FTC said. The memorandum's key provisions include:

Scope of Cooperation: The memorandum provides for cooperation in the enforcement of consumer protection laws. In the case of the United States, this means "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" embodied in laws enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (except for antitrust laws). In the case of Costa Rica, it refers to relevant chapters of the law for the promotion of competition and effective consumer protection.

Notification of Enforcement Activities: The Federal Trade Commission and the ministry will use their best efforts to notify each other of consumer protection enforcement activities that might affect the agencies’ mutual interest.

Cooperation and Coordination: The agencies will use their best efforts, where appropriate and consistent with their laws, to assist each other in gathering information and coordinating law enforcement activities.

Exchange of Information: The memorandum encourages the exchange of information for consumer protection law enforcement purposes, provided it does not conflict with existing limitations on information disclosure.

The Federal Trade Commission is working to promote international consumer protection cooperation on a global level. The agency has also signed agreements with Australia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

The commission vote to approve the agreement was 5-0.

The Federal Trade Commission works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them.

Women's club charity
dinner dance is Sept. 2

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Women's Club of Costa Rica will hold its charity fund raiser dinner dance Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Hotel Real InterContinental, Escazú, the group has announced.

The theme is "In the Mood," based on the Glenn Miller big band tune. However, dancing will include music from the 40s through the 70s, the announcement said.

The evening will also include a raffle, a silent and live auction, and dinner. Donation per ticket is 20,000 colons. Information: 273-1142, 285-1276,
mpaul_wccr@hotmail.com, www.wccr.org

The group also will have a raffle, and money raised will go to club charity projects including social services and scholarships.

Our readers' opinions

The fault is with Hezbollah

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to Jim Shapiro's letter "turning the other cheek" in reference to Israel's battle for survival in an area surrounded by lawless enemies bent on her destruction, perhaps "walk a mile in my shoes" might be a more appropriate slogan for him.

That the terrorist group Hezbollah stoops to placing its rocket battlements that fire into civilian neighborhoods in Israel amidst innocent civilians in Lebanon means that Israel should not try to eradicate such an inhumane and blood thirsty group, sworn to its destruction, is easy for someone in Mr. Shapiros safe and secure surroundings to foolishly proclaim.
Hari Singh Khalsa
Play Santa Teresa

He's against cease-fire

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

We never see these images on CNN mainly because CNN is Arab owned and controlled.  They show what they want the world to see and what they want the world to believe: the poor, innocent, peace loving Muslims being persecuted by those nasty Israelis.  BULLSHIT!!! 
Tell it the way it is. [The writer enclosed photos of demonstrators in England carrying signs that said, among other things, "Butcher those who mock Islam." "Slay those who insult Islam."
The Lebanese government and its people harbored the Hezbollah and treat them as humanitarians and heroes.  They welcomed the Hezbollah into their territories and into their homes.  They cheered when the Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel. 

Now that Israel is retaliating, the Lebanese  don't think it is fun any more.  Now they are crying "Poor us - please world, make them stop shelling us."   To hell with a cease-fire.  Let Israel defend itself the way they know how.  They know where the Hezbollah rockets are being fired from. 

The Israelis give plenty of warning before they start shelling an area so the civilian population will have time to get to safety.  Many of the civilian causalities were due to their refusal to leave; they were families of the Hezbollah.  Again I say "NO" to a cease-fire.  Let Israel deal with those who attacked them in their own way.

Art Smiley
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 153

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Long way
still to go

Even Tuesday night the streets were full of pilgrims on their way to Cartago.

This shot was taken in San Pedro, some 20 kms from the Basilical de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.

Nation recovering from mostly crime free pilgrimage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The great annual pilgrimage concluded Wednesday, and tired, foot sore faithful returned to their homes.

The Fuerza Pública is taking credit for a mostly crime-free event that spanned five days. Only two crimes were reported, and those involved were detained.

The religious ceremony Wednesday took place under the shadow of war in the Middle East.

Both President Óscar Arias Sánchez and church speakers agreed on the need to eliminate violence and foment tolerance.

"Don't permit, Señora, Costa Rica to be a land of raised ramparts for the word of hatred," said Arias in his public prayer to the Virgen de los Ángeles, the patroness of the nation. "Don't permit that insults be the weapons of our own annihilation."

The ceremony at the Basílica de la Virgen de los Angeles in Cartago was attended by many in government, including ministers and members of the Asamblea Legislativa.

José R. Barquero, bishop of Alajuela, said that there was a new mentality afoot, a new culture with many 

Casa Presidencial photo
President Óscar Arias Sánchez was highly popular with those at the Cartago ceremony.

signs of death.  The statements from the churchmen were interpreted as being against same sex matrimony, in vitro fertilization and experiments with stem cells.

Arias repeated his call for an immediate and effective cease-fire in the Middle East, and asked the Virgin to help the country to battle poverty and intolerance.

Mother's day this year is a repeat performance
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

OK, guys, it's a trap. Or an intelligence test.

You doubtlessly have heard that some holidays have now been moved to the next Monday to give everyone a three-day weekend. In fact, the country just went through one. July 25, the date of the anniversary of the Partido de Nicoya was moved to last Monday.

But here is the kicker. Next Aug. 15, the Día de la Madre, mother's day in Costa Rica, is Tuesday, Aug. 15. But under the new law the celebration is moved forward to Monday, Aug. 21.

But what kind of slug is going to tell his mother Aug.
15 that he'll get around to getting her a present next week?

So there you go. A present is obligatory Aug. 15, and maybe another gift, a dinner or trip to the beach on the weekend of Aug. 19 to 21.

For the newcomers, mother's day here is really, really big. The reasons are too deep and too intertwined with Latin culture to explain, but don't miss out. And if the kids are too little to run up a  tab at a fancy store, Dad has to do the job.
Flowers are fine as long as they come as part of a larger gift. This is the day to make wives and mothers feel super special.

You have been warned!


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 153

Political pundits try to figure out who is Raúl Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In Cuba, Vice President Raul Castro has maintained a low profile since assuming executive authority while his older brother, Fidel, recovers from intestinal surgery. Cuban officials insist the transfer of power is only temporary, but many Cuba-watchers see the exercise as a dress rehearsal for the eventual permanent passing of the reins to Raul Castro, Fidel's designated successor.  Just how Raul Castro would lead, and where he would take the country is an open question.

For decades, Raúl Castro has lived in the shadows of the charismatic Fidel.  The two brothers have been virtually inseparable since childhood.  They plotted together in a failed coup attempt in 1953, after which they both went to prison. They departed for México on their release, and later fought together in Cuba's 1959 Communist takeover. Commonly viewed as Fidel's right-hand man, Raul has served in a variety of high-ranking government posts, including vice president and defense minister.

Raúl, 75, is now the focus of attention, yet shows no eagerness to step into the limelight during the temporary transfer of power.

A former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Wayne Smith now heads the Cuba program at the Center for International Policy in Washington.  Smith, who continues to visit the island as a researcher and has met both Fidel and Raúl on numerous occasions, says the brothers are very different people.

"Raúl has always been thought of as a rather dour, not terribly imaginative, not charismatic like his brother, which is true enough," said Mr. Smith.  "But Raúl Castro does have a sense of humor. He is pragmatic, and, as a matter of fact, I think Raúl will be much more open to a relationship with the United States, and an opening to the rest of the world than was his brother."

Cuba-watchers note that Raúl Castro has carried out some of Fidel's harshest orders, including crackdowns on dissidents on the island. Yet it was
Raúl who successfully argued for limited economic liberalization in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, famously noting at the time that "beans are more important than bullets." More recently, when asked what will transpire after his brother's death,

Raúl Castro
Raúl replied that Cuba will see a transition to a better form of socialism and a more democratic society. He did not elaborate.
At the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, executive director Frank
Calzón sees Raúl Castro as a pale shadow of his older brother and predicts his rule of the island will be brief.

"Whatever one might say about Fidel, Raúl is not up to the evil genius qualities that his brother has. It is very unlikely that General Castro will be able, for any length of time, to keep control of Cuba," he explained.

Calzón notes that other, younger members of Cuba's Communist hierarchy likely harbor ambitions of leadership. Some Cuba-watchers say a newly-inaugurated Raúl Castro may be tempted, at least initially, to rule with an iron fist to demonstrate his authority and intimidate potential rivals.

But just what will happen is open to debate. In fact, given that Fidel Castro is only four years Raúl's senior, should he recover fully from his current ailment, there is the possibility that the president could outlive his brother.

In Washington, the Bush administration is taking a wait-and-see approach, especially during the current temporary transfer of power in Havana. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"The fact of the matter is, this is a pretty closed decision-making circle," he said.  "And it is very opaque as to what is actually going on."

McCormack adds, however, that the United States stands willing to aid Cuba in a transition to democracy if and when the people demonstrate their desire for change.

Democracy means trade and investment, U.S. Commerce chief says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Because Latin America is primarily democratic, the region tends to be "pro-market, pro-trade, pro-investment," and enjoys strong trade relations with the United States, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez.

Briefing reporters Tuesday, Gutiérrez described his recent visit to Perú, where he attended the inauguration of Peruvian President Alan Garcia, and offered his perspective on the U.S.-Latin America trade agenda.  On the economic front, "I believe that we are more aligned than ever before with Latin America at large," he said.

Gutiérrez told reporters that the region recognizes the need to reinforce the rule of law, and increasingly is committed to transparency in regulations and government actions.  Adherence to those concepts will enhance Latin America's investment climate, and the region generally has embraced them, he added.

The United States remains actively engaged with its neighbors in pursuit of trade agreements, both bilateral and multilateral, that will benefit the region as a whole, said Gutiérrez.  He said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab recently returned from Brazil, after consulting with Brazilian trade experts about reviving World Trade Organization talks.  U.S.
officials also are holding discussions with their counterparts in Panamá to achieve a free-trade agreement, he said.

The United States has already established a trade agreement with Chile, "and it is doing exceptionally well," Gutiérrez observed.  Similarly, "we've just negotiated a free-trade agreement with Perú, and we believe that that will do extremely well," he said. 

It is no coincidence that these countries have democratically elected governments and as such, "they believe in trade; they believe in investment; they believe in free enterprise," he said. By the same token, he said, "we do $39 billion of two-way trade with Brazil, and we believe we can do a lot more."

Asked whether the United States is concerned about a shift towards left-of-center policies in some parts of Latin America, Gutiérrez said: "By and large, there may be tactical differences here and there, but fundamentally I believe that we have  alignment" on the most important issues.  Overall, there is a broad consensus on the necessary foundation for long-term prosperity: "It's democracy; it's trade; it's business, investment, social justice," he said. 

"Those are the fundamental aspects that really count, and that's where we have great, great consistency with the beliefs in Latin America today."

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