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These stories were published Thursday, Aug. 5, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 154
Jo Stuart
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Olivier Duex photos
Protesters block the main road into Nuevo Arenal
Barricades become a response to rotten roads
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents in the Arenal Lake area are fed up with bad roads. They are starting to barricade towns as a protest.

A resident of Nuevo Arenal said the road into that community was blocked Wednesday as motorists expressed their frustration.

"During a year, the roads have not been repaired. Only when President Pacheco visited recently was a little piece of road rapidly fixed. However, there already are new potholes," said Olivier Duex.

Other communities around the lake are taking similar actions, he said.

There is no indication how long the residents plan to continue their protest. The roads along the northeast side of the lake is a difficult one to maintain due to the topography.

The sign says ‘We want them to fix the roads for us.’

Hotel owners get some flexibility in new law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hotel and rooming house owners appear to be getting a break in the latest draft of the revision of the country’s immigration law.

A legislative committee reported Wednesday that it had accepted an amendment that gives the operators of places of lodging 48 hours before they run afoul of the law.

The proposed law has stiff sanctions for hotel and boarding house operators who rent to persons who are illegally in the country.

The amendment to the proposed law now would penalize persons or companies who rent for more than 48 hours to a foreigner who is not legally in the country.

The change was proposed by Deputy Edwin Patterson, who said the revision was to give business people a reasonable time to determine the nationality and status of their guests. He is a member of the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

Under the old draft one person in a hotel for one hour would constitute a violation by the owner and bring down sanctions, he noted. Penalties remain stiff. Violation calls for a fine of from one to five salary bases, which could run up to 800,000 colons for a single incident. That’s $1,800.

Patterson’s motion was only one of two that were approved by the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración, which is studying the measure.

In all, some 200 motions were submitted, and the committee studied all of them. The second motion approved specifies the manner in which the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería can authorize a person to change their subcategory of residency.

The net result of the committee’s work is that the immigration reform bill is ready to go back to the legislature for likely approval.

This is the measure that concerns potential residents here because the category of rentista is eliminated. It appears that will be the case in the final draft, despite efforts by expats here to retain the category.

The proposal also does not include financial requirements for the types of residencies available to expats. Currently a pensionado must show a $600 a month income from a recognized pension plan. A rentista must show a bank deposit of some $60,000 that he or she agrees to convert into colons at the rate of $1,000 a month.

The proposal does, however, give officials the ability to change those numbers administratively. Currently the numbers are in the law, which is viewed as being hard to change.

Once the law is passed, immigration officials will have six months to draw up enabling regulations, and that will give some expats the opportunity to apply for residency under the old requirements. Existing residents will be grandfathered in their current status.

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Food challenge aims
to save Heredia’s past

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Have any good traditional recipes typical of the Heredia area?

If so, the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes wants you to sign up for the Sept. 12 contest for typical food and drink of that province.

The event will be in the Escuela Joaquín Lizano in Heredia center.

The event is under the auspices of the Centro de Investigación y Conservation del Patrimonio Cultural of the ministry. The idea is to keep alive regional dishes. Similar events have been held in Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Cartago.

Three categories are available: main dishes, bread and deserts and drinks. Prizes range from 50,000 to 125,000 colons, $114 to $284.

On the day of the event, the public will be invited free and those who show up can buy and help sample the foods.

The judges are asking that contestants serve the foods in traditional utensils, such as wooden bowls. Signup is available at the Municipalidad de Heredia or via 223-2533, 255-3523 or 258-1512.

Boston music group
plays here Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ensemble Algarabía from Boston. Mass. will be offering a free concert Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Teatro Eugene O’Neill in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Barrio Dent.

The three-member group features Gina Caldwell on the viola, Lorena González on the piano and soprano Pamela Lowry.

In addition to the centro, other sponsors are the U.S. Embassy and the Academia Música Bach.

The centro is 200 meters north of the Los Yoses gasoline station.

Another passenger
faces drug count

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police arrested a 25-year-old Costa Rican man Tuesday and said he was trying to leave Juan Santamaría International Airport with more than two kilos of cocaine.

Policía de Control de Drogas agents identified him by the last names of Gutiérrez Nordstrom. He was headed for Stockholm, Sweden.

He became the 28th person arrested on drug trafficking charges at the airport this year.

Stray round hits woman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman sitting in a bar in the Cristo Rey section of San José was the victim when two men opened fire against police nearby.

The woman, Marisol Cerdas Jiménez, 33, was struck by a stray bullet in the left arm and stomach. She was hospitalized.

Fuerza Pública officers and agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization were trying to detain the two men, who fled.

Hunter’s body found in river

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescue workers have found the body of Armando Padilla Piedre, 24,  who fell into the Río Parritón near Quepos while hunting Saturday.

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Pacheco takes tough stand on two labor fronts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco government is taking a firm hand with strikers and would-be strikers.

The Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil Wednesday approved the start of a procedure to fire the 115 or so striking air traffic controllers. The six-week strike has been declared illegal in three labor courts.

Meanwhile, President Able Pacheco was to sign a decree setting the raises for public employees for the last half of the year at 4.5 percent. That is far lower than public employee unions wanted. The unions are expected to respond with a general strike.

The government’s position was not strengthened by the release Wednesday of statistics showing inflation was pushing prices higher by more than 1 percent a month.

The last seven months show an annual rate in excess of 12 percent. 

The air traffic controllers have been on strike since June 26. They say that an agreement in 1994 promises them the opportunity to make 35 percent higher pay but that changes in the structure of the organization have eliminated that possibility.

The air controllers union representatives warn of 

dangerous conditions in the skies and that the government will be unable to make adequate replacements in the short run.

Right now controllers imported from other Latin American countries are running the air traffic net.

The decree setting the salary increase for public employees came after negotiations broke down. Union leaders wanted at least a 6 percent raise. The government originally offered 3.5 percent.

The increases reflect the fact that the national currency, the colon, continues a programmed devaluation. Nearly 200,000 public employees are involved in the negotiations. The 4.5 percent raise actually would represent a slight pay cut based on the current inflation rate.

The raises will become law when the decree is published in La Gaceta, the official newspaper. Employees will be paid retroactively.

The government has complained that it does not have the resources to pay higher salaries. Pacheco is counting on the legislature passing the fiscal reform package and its host of new taxes. The government estimates that the new taxes will bring in $500 million more a year.

Giving in to the public employees and the air controllers could jeopardize passage of the tax package.

La Nación, reporter win rights case over stories
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The InterAmerican Court of Human Rights says Costa Rica violated the liberty of expression of a La Nación newsman. The legally binding decision vacates a criminal conviction against the newsman, Mauricio Herrera Ulloa.

The case stems from articles Herrera wrote in 1995 about Felix Przedborsky, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Commission. Przedborsky sued the newsman and La Nación for defamation, which is a crime here. The articles involved a $250 million arms deal in Belgium.

Eventually in 1999 Costa Rican courts found that Herrera had defamed the diplomat and ordered him to pay 60 million colons in damages and to be listed as a convicted criminal.

One key element of the case was that Herrera had based his news stories on material published by respectable European newspapers.

The InterAmerican court stayed the payment of the fine in 2001 while it studied the case.

Today, its decision awards Herrera $20,000 in emotional damages, $10,000 in legal fees and it orders that his name be stricken from the list of convicted criminals.

Costa Rica recognizes the authority of the InterAmerican court, which is based in San José and part of the Organization of American States. The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto responded to the decision by saying Costa Rica respects the jurisdiction of the court. There is no appeal from the right court decision.

Northern zone residents get chance to comment on open pit mine
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of the Northern Zone got a chance to air their views over the weekend about a proposed open pit gold mine there.

The Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental held a public hearing as part of the permit process.

The Canadian firm Vanessa Ventures, and its 

Industrias Infinito S.A., seeks to exploit the rich ore. The firms have run into considerable opposition that was shown at the hearing. The companies plan to use cyanide to leach the gold from the rock.

Opposition exists in Nicaragua, too, because the site is only three kilometers from the San Juan River.

The statements at the hearing will become part of the record.

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Danilovich, in first talk, praises Brazil's leadership
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and special reports

SAO PAULO, Brazil — John Danilovich, the former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, says his country applauds the emergence of Brazil as a world leader.

Danilovich, who has been on the job here for just a week, gave his first major speech as the U.S. ambassador to Brazil Tuesday. He said the United States welcomes the roles that the South American nation has assumed in the Western Hemisphere.

The talk was at the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Institute here. Danilovich outlined the commonalities that shape the U.S.-Brazil relationship. He noted that both nations value democracy and free trade, while also sharing concerns over problems such as poverty, illegal narcotics and social exclusion.

Danilovich said that Brazil’s president,  Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was continuing the country’s active internationalist diplomacy of the previous administration and that this is something the United States welcomes. "We see Brazil as a partner, a good partner, a robust partner, a democratic partner with real weight and importance," he said. He expressed confidence that the two nations can work together 

to enhance hemispheric democracy, stability and prosperity.

The ambassador said the United States encourages the leadership roles that Brazil has assumed in resolving crises in Haiti, Bolivia and Venezuela. More broadly, he said the United States is pleased to note Brazil's elevated global profile.

"We have watched with admiration and respect as Brazil becomes a beacon for citizens of developing countries everywhere, giving them hope and a voice on the international stage that they would otherwise not have," Danilovich said. "We applaud the emergence of Brazil as a world leader."

Danilovich said he looks forward to working with Brazil's government, private sector, and civil society to advance the common agenda of the United States and Brazil.

Da Silva, a former union leader popularly known as Lula, is Brazil’s first leftist president in nearly 40 years. He succeeded Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a two-term president, whose center-right government enacted free-market reforms. Da Silva has toned down his socialist rhetoric although Brazil conntinues to be a stumbling block in the formation of a hemispheric-wide free trade area.

Union leader Ortega reported back in Venezuela after asylum here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire reports

CARACAS, Venezuela — Leaders of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation say union president Carlos Ortega has returned to the country more than a year after seeking exile in Costa Rica. 

Union officials say Ortega returned over the weekend, but could not confirm his location. 

Ortega told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he planned to join opposition efforts to oust President Hugo Chavez. He said he returned to support democratic groups in the nation and was willing to fight the Chavez regime by any means necessary. 

In March 2003, the union boss sought asylum and protection in the Costa Rican Embassy in Caracas and later came to Costa Rica. In seeking protection, he escaped a trial over his role in a two-month general strike. 

Earlier this year, Costa Rica asked Ortega to leave the country due to his plans to work against Chavez's government. 

Marco Badilla, director general of Migración y Extranjería, confimed in San José Wednesday that Ortega left the country July 30. The union leader was on an American Air Line flight to Miami.
However, no one in Costa Rica could confirm that the union leader was back in Venezuela where a referrendum on Chavez is scheduled for Aug. 15.

Jo Stuart
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