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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 153
Jo Stuart
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RACSA and ICE join forces to offer high-speed Internet HERE!

Law gives the public a weapon against delay
Officials have to answer your applications
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Have you ever felt helpless in front of a government office in Costa Rica?  There are ways you can fight back.

Costa Rica currently has approximately 200 public institutions. They are probably the No. 1 cause of frustration for those living in this country. 

The number of requirements to most procedures seems sometimes like a never-ending story, turning even simple requests into huge challenges.

Many times the aggravation, after several trips to the same institution, leads one to offer a "tip" to a representative to get the job done faster.  This practice only contributes to corruption and makes getting things done by everyone harder because government workers expect extra rewards for doing their jobs.

A law to protect citizens, residents, non-residents, everyone, against the excess of requirements and administrative procedures was passed and published in La Gaceta, the official public records newspaper March 11, 2002. 

The law applies to every single public institution in Costa Rica, including, municipalities, ministries, public enterprises and autonomous institutions.

It affirms the request-and-answer right set out in the Costa Rican Constitution.  This right says that any person who files any type of request in front of any public office should receive an answer to the request in two months. 

After the term expires, with no answer, one can immediately file an amparo, or relief suit, in front of the Constitutional Court to force government bureaucrats to answer.

It is very important to note that if the request is for a permit, license, or authorization, if all requirements are met and filed correctly, and one does not receive an approval or denial in one month after the filing date, it is understood to be approved.  This is called positive silence.

According to the law, Article 7 states there are two ways to apply positive silence.  One way is to send a note to the public institution stating a request was completed but not answered and assumed approved giving a one-day term for officials to respond.  The other way is to have a public notary, an attorney in Costa Rica that is also a notary, to make an acta or affidavit, and register it in his notary book.

The law also specifically states requirements cannot be excessive.  A public institution can not ask for the same things twice and cannot request any document that relates to the same institution.  For example, INS, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly, cannot request the tarjeta de circulación, the mandatory insurance registration card showing payment by every vehicle owner every year. INS issues these tarjetas.

All requirements can be requested only once and, when requested, the public institution is required to cite the legal foundation, date and source requiring the information.

The law mandates every institution to publish in La Gaceta all necessary requirements for any procedure.  In other words, any thing requested

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
List of requirements helps cut red tape

Selected Legal Requirements 
by Institution and Publication Date
Tilarán Municipality #33 2/17/03
Santa Ana Municipality #88 5/9/03
San José Municipality #129 7/5/02
Liberia Municipality  #152 8/9/02
Escazú Municipality  #47 3/7/03
Belén Municipality #132 7/10/02
Atenas Municipality  #51 3/13/03
Alajuela Municipality #169 9/4/02
Banco Popular #130 7/8/02
RACSA #187 9/30/02
JASEC  #125 7/1/02
INS #207 10/28/02
Tourism Institute #115 6/17/02
Caja  #119 6/21/02
Labor Ministry #125 7/1/02
Immigration #169 9/4/02
Health Ministry #102 5/29/02
Taxes Ministry #242 12/16/02

by any public office in Costa Rica must have the specific guidelines published and available to the public.

This is a very valuable weapon to defend rights in Costa Rica.

One excellent example is of people getting the runaround by municipalities when requesting visados, or special permits used for a variety of things, including building construction and land subdivisions.  Many people fight for years with no success.

Knowing the exact requirements, filing the paperwork correctly, and following up by using the methods described above to fight back can solve even the worst nightmare situations with public tramites or the Tico word for red tape.

La Gaceta and the information contained in it can serve as an indispensable tool in knowing more about your rights in Costa Rica.  It is published every business day and can be accessed via the Internet for a small subscription fee. 

Garland M. Baker is a 32-year resident of Costa Rica who provides professional services to the international community. He can be reached at info@crexpertise.com. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review and can be reached at crlaw@licgarro.com.

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Robbers meet cop, 
and blood is shed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A vacationing investigator stumbled on a band of robbers Tuesday and engaged them in a gun battle.

The drama unfolded about 10:30 a.m. when William Jenkis, a member of the Judicial Investigating Organization, was taking his child to school. The scene was the Colegio Adventista in Hatillo 1, a high school in a southern suburb.

A gang of armed men already had held a secretary at gunpoint and threatened to kill her if she did not hand over money. She did, some 1.4 million colons, about $3,200.

In the gun battle, Jenkis suffered a wound to the hip and several robbers also were wounded, agents said.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the gang probably was the same one that held up Instituto Jiménez on Avenida 2 early Thursday. That, too, is an educational institution.

Jenkis was reported in stable condition at  Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Agents were able to trace the vehicle involved in the robbery and made one arrest during a raid in Desamparados in late afternoon. Other arrests were expected.

License bureau hit
by damaging bolt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lightning bolt sometime over the weekend danaged computer equipment in the driver’s license bureau of the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transporte, so no licenses will be issued or renewed until further notice.

The problem seems to be in an expensive modem connection that links branch offices all over the country to the central computer. The equipment did not work correctly Tuesday following the Sunday damage and the Monday holiday.

The ministry will have to purchase the equipment and install it to resume issuing licenses.

ICE manager resigns
over trip to Prague

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Álvaro Retana, deputy manager of telecommunications for the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, has surrendered his post.

He was one of three employees of the communications monopoly who visited Prague, Czech Republic, in the company of an Ericsson executive. That company does business with the government firm.

Retana is being investigated and has been criticized by internal company reports.

Meanwhile, two members of the ICE board of directors are back on the job after winning a constitutional appeal. They are Hernando Pantigoso de la Peña and Jose Antonio Lobo Solera. Patricia Vega, the mininster of Justicia, made that announcement Tuesday morning at a meeting of the Consejo de Gobierno.

The two directors also made the Prague trip. The three were in Europe for a convention.

Home show this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another of the Central Valley’s home shows opens tonight at the Herradura Conference Center in Heredia.

This is the ExpoCasa 2004 that will run through Sunday. This second annual event is sponsored by the Cámara Costarricense de la Construcción, Stewart Title and Century 21.

Quake hits in west

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 3.8 magnitude earthquake hit about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday near Cóbano on the Nicoya Peninsula. No damage was reported.
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Newspaper decides it does not need a mascot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There always is something new here in paradise. At least at the new offices of A.M. Costa Rica.

First there was the burglar. We reported about that April 13. Then came the ragging fire in a brush-covered lot next door. We chronicled that April 21.

Early Tuesday a moderately-sized boa constrictor took up residence above one of the main doors. 

All this in Barrio Otoya within three blocks of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building. The visiting serpent may have been a refugee from

 the nearby Parque Bolivar zoo, or he just may have dropped by from the urban jungle to find a quick snack.

The Policia Municipal has pulled two other large snakes from nearby homes in the past two months. Our visitor was No. 3. The critter was about 6 feet long compared to the 11-foot snake found two weeks ago. Officers quickly came and dislodged the visitor from its perch atop a porton, one of the barred entry gates.

The snake did not put up much of a struggle and was last seen in a plastic bag headed for the zoo.
Meanwhile, neighbors are keeping their cats and dogs indoors.

Venezuela rapped for ruling restricting journalists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A July 27 ruling by Venezuela's Supreme Court requiring the licensing of journalists in that country is incompatible with a Western Hemisphere convention on human rights to which Venezuela is a party, says Eduardo Bertoni, the media guardian for the Organization of American States.

In a statement Monday, Bertoni, whose formal title is special rapporteur for freedom of expression, said he regrets that the highest court of justice in Venezuela upheld a law requiring journalists to be licensed in order to practice their profession in that country.

In condemning the Venezuelan court's decision, Bertoni pointed specifically to Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which says that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression" and that the "exercise of that right shall not be subject to prior censorship."

The purpose of that convention, as defined by its preamble, is "to consolidate in this hemisphere, within the framework of democratic institutions, a system of personal liberty and social justice based on respect for the essential rights of man." The convention was adopted in 1969 by the nations of the Americas meeting in San José and came into force in 1978.

Bertoni said he is concerned about the "implications that this decision could have for the exercise of freedom of expression and of the press in Venezuela."

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, said Bertoni, has ruled that a law requiring journalists to be licensed "would contain restrictions to freedom of expression that are not authorized" by the American Convention, and "would consequently be in violation not only of the right of each individual to seek and impart information and ideas through any means of his choice, but also the right of the public at large to receive information without any interference."

According to Venezuela's National Press Association, there were 708 reported aggressions against journalists in Venezuela from 1995 to this March 5.

Costa Rica, too, has a law that requires mandatory membership in the Colegio de Periodistas. In 1983 Stephen Schmidt, then a writer for The Tico Times, was convicted in the Corte Suprema de Justicia (Sala III) of illegally practicing journalism.

The InterAmerican Court of Human Rights later found the conviction to be faulty and basically nullified this part of the law.

The 1969 law instituting the Costa Rican Colegio de Periodistas provides that only members of the Association may work as journalists. In a number of Latin countries such laws were seen as protection of local reporters and editors against a flood of Cuban professionals who then were leaving their island nation.

Costa Rica has a new press law being developed that may address this issue. The bill is still stuck in a legislative committee.

Bush signs U.S. free-trade pact with Australia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Geroge Bush has signed a new trade deal with Australia that eliminates almost all duties on commerce between the countries. 

Bush says the free trade agreement will mean lower prices and more jobs for both America and Australia.

"I support free and fair trade because it has the power to create new wealth for whole nations and new opportunities for millions of people," he said.

The agreement eliminates duties on 99 percent of U.S. manufactured exports to Australia. That is the largest immediate reduction of any U.S. free trade agreement.

Total annual two-way trade in goods and services between the countries is currently $28 billion, making Australia America's 10th largest export market. American manufacturers expect the new deal will increase exports by nearly $2 billion a year.

It also gives U.S. firms greater access to Australian markets in telecommunications, government procurement, express delivery, computers, tourism, energy, construction, financial services, and entertainment.

At a signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Bush said he is working to extend the benefits of free trade around the world by renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and by signing free trade agreements with Morocco, Chile and Singapore.

"One of the great economic achievements since the end of the Cold War has been the success of free and fair trade in raising-up the world's poor, bringing hope to the world's hopeless, promoting freedom among the world's oppressed and creating jobs at home and abroad," he said. 

"The same advantages that this agreement will bring to the United States and Australia can and should be available to the developing world. Our two nations are committed to the reduction of trade barriers and other restrictions that are keeping too much of the world from the kind of prosperity and opportunity that the developed world takes for granted."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is one of the biggest supporters of U.S. policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush says he is grateful for the vision and friendship of Howard.

The trade deal has not passed the Australian Senate, where opposition legislators want the agreement changed to protect subsidized medicine and local content rules for Australian television.

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RACSA, ICE joining forces for high-speed Internet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiogáfica Costarricense S.A. and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad are joining forces to offer high-speed Internet service in key areas in the country.

The companies known as RACSA and ICE previously have said they would compete against each other as Internet providers.

The companies announced Tuesday that they would be integrating the telephone lines maintained by ICE with the Internet hookups and servers operated by RACSA.

Right now only a small pilot project of high-speed Internet exists in downtown San José, although expansion has been promised for months. That project was operated exclusively by ICE.

An announcement by the government’s Grupo ICE, which owns both companies, said service is available immediately.

The places are San Juan de Tibás, Pavas, Desamparados, Curridabat, San Pedro de Montes de Oca, Cariari, San Antonio de Belén and Cartago in the Central Valley.

Elsewhere the service will be available in Puntarenas, Limón center, San Isidro de El General and Ciudad Quesada, the announcement said.

San José was not listed.

Those interested in getting this service can call 155 to set up appointments, the company said.

The new system, technically called Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line or ADSL, uses the existing telephone lines to connect users to the Internet servers. The Internet connection is at a different frequency and does not bother the telephone connection. The connection is called asymmetric because data moves to the computer at a speed different than it moves from the computer.

In this way, ICE said, each user has a private hookup as compared to cable modem connections that may use many computer hookups on a single line. The ADSL service is competition for the cable companies that are using their lines to connect subscribers to the RACSA server.

A.M. Costa Rica discussed the details of ADSL in its edition of June 28.

The ICE-RACSA release said that ADSL was being offered in only certain areas because central telephone stations and certain RACSA equipment have to be available. It promised that slowly the rest of the country will have the service. ADSL is known to be very sensitive to the distance a computer is located from the telephone central switchboard. The service degrades if the computer is too far away.

Those who use the service will be connected 24 hours a day and will not have to pay the telephone calling charges as many now do with dial-up modems.

Tariffs, set by the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, vary depending on the speed of the connection and the type of customer. A residential customer with a velocity of 128 kilobytes per second incoming and 64 kilobytes sending will pay $25  a month, the company said. Connection speeds will exist up to 4 megabytes per second.

Extensive information in Spanish is available on the Grupo ICE Web page.

In the June 28 story, RACSA and ICE were criticized for running competing services that had different technologies. The story said of ICE’s pilot project:

"Lately, there are so many problems with the connection and speeds with the existing ADSL in San José, companies need to have dial-up connections as backups and need to use them frequently. Once you are use to ultra fast Internet, dial-up is a frustration."

OAS gets nearly $1 million for security training
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is contributing $945,000 to an anti-terrorism unit of the Organization of American States to help governments in the Western Hemisphere prevent terrorists from entering their countries and to support an aviation-security training program.

The U.S. donation is being provided to the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism. which the U.S. State Department calls the hemisphere's primary vehicle for counterterrorism cooperation. The Organization of American States announced the new U.S. donation Monday.

John Maisto, the U.S. permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, said the contribution reflects the "active interest and strong support" by the United States for "counterterrorism efforts in the hemisphere, for furthering the CICTE enhancements to its work plan, and for the global campaign against terrorism."

Maisto has said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States "imposed upon us and, I might add, all the nations of the hemisphere, an obligation to heighten security measures."

The Organization of American States said $420,000 of the total U.S. donation will be allocated to enhance border management programs and migration processes through on-site missions. These missions, said the Organization of American States, will focus on "comprehensive assessments aimed at enhancing priority border management capacities" for the 15-country bloc of Caribbean nations known as CARICOM, and for the Dominican Republic.

Another $300,000 will be used to enhance and supplement the committee’s aviation security programs through follow-on courses for airport security personnel and through security instructor training for CARICOM states and the Dominican Republic. The United States, through its Third Border Initiative, provides Caribbean countries with airport security and aviation safety training, fellowships, and on-the-ground direct technical assistance, with the goal of assuring that travelers in the Caribbean region enjoy the highest standards for safety and security.

Finally, the Organization of American States said $225,000 will be allotted for training and technical assistance to candidates from customs and border agencies "to promote greater integrity, professionalism, and ethical behavior in officials."

Charges filed in supermarket blaze that killed more than 400
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — Authorities have filed manslaughter charges in connection with a fire at a supermarket where more than 400 people died. Workers continue the grisly task of identifying the dead and treating the wounded.

As funerals continue for the second day in Asunción, a supermarket security guard has told authorities that he was instructed to lock the doors of the building to prevent shoplifting and looting. 

The owners of the supermarket remain in police custody, but deny allegations that they ordered the exits locked shortly after the fire erupted on Sunday afternoon. A local judge is reviewing the case before deciding whether to charge the men in connection with the deaths. 

Survivors of the inferno say that scores of people were able to reach the exits, only to find the doors locked shut. Many were forced to escape through 

broken windows. Investigators believe that the ceiling collapsed in one part of the building, trapping and crushing dozens of people who were attempting to flee.  Recovery efforts have been delayed because firefighters are afraid other parts of the building could also collapse.

Paraguay's emergency services have been stretched to their limit trying to cope with the hundreds of bodies, many of them burned beyond recognition. Hundreds of other people remain hospitalized with first-degree burns, respiratory problems and other injuries.

Pope John Paul II has sent his condolences to this primarily Catholic nation, as have President Bush and other world leaders. Supplies and medicine continue to arrive from neighboring South American countries. 

Authorities suspect that the deadliest fire in Paraguay's history was caused by an exploding gas canister inside the building.

Jo Stuart
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