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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 157
Jo Stuart
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An ethical dilemma
To pay or not to pay, that is the question
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The latest predicament grew from a mental lapse on my part. I accidentally left an expensive camera in the back seat of a taxi as I got out at Casa Presidencial a week ago.

The taxi was two blocks away before I noticed the loss of my small Sony digital.

We figured the camera was a goner, the cost of doing journalism anywhere. But fellow newspeople, including colleagues from Diario Extra and at the press office of the Judicial Investigating Organization came to my aid.

La Extra ran a small notice about the gringo losing a camera. Press people notified radio commentators.

The result is a situation that requires a little participatory journalism. Readers will be asked to give advice on what to do.

You see, the taxista found the camera and saw La Extra. Saturday he called to say we could have it back, but we just needed to pay the 50,000 colons to get the device out of the unspecified pawn shop. That’s about $112. The camera is used and worth about $200.

As a sign of good faith the taxi driver gave me the black cloth bag that had contained the camera. Still in it was my press identification and phone number.

The taxista came again Monday to invite me to go to the pawn shop and redeem the camera. Getting in a tax carrying $112 in cash is not something I usually do, at least when the driver knows I have the money. I stalled.

Some associates want me to forget the camera and file a criminal charge of extortion against the cab driver. We have his plate number

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Empty camera bag was returned

which allowed us to obtain his name. He is basically holding the Sony for ransom. He knew who I was and pawned the device anyway.

Others say I should be pragmatic. Pay the money, take the camera and forget it.

Curiously, every Costa Rican consulted wants a criminal complaint filed. The North Americans say I should pay. The Costa Ricans say I should not encourage this type of behavior. The North Americans say one taxi driver is not going to change anything.

So here is your chance. You can send an e-mail, with or without comments to one of two addresses.

If you think I should file a complaint and try to get the camera back from the pawn shop with the help of the police, send your e-mail to burntheguy@amcostarica.com.

If you think I should simply pay off to get the camera back, send your e-mail to paytheguy@amcostarica.com.

We’ll publish the results.

Agents seeking help in locating robbery gang in Turrialba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are looking for help in locating at least three men who have been on a robbery spree in Turrialba for more than a month.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said the gang is suspected of committing at least eight robberies during that time.

In each case, bystanders became involved. The gang has robbed groceries and restaurants, 

usually after 6:30 p.m. The men carry an AK-47 rifle, a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun and a pistol. They are prone to fire the weapons to gain the attention of victims.

Agents attribute an Aug. 8 robbery at the Mini Súper Mora on the east side of Turrialba to this gang. Some 600.000 colons were taken, about $1,360.

Robberies at the Restaurante el Clon July 25 and at the Restaurante Portes July 11 also have this gang as suspects, agents said.

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Vehicle inspection firm
says rejections lower

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The  company that holds the vehicle inspection monopoly, Riteve S y C, says that rejections during the first inspection visit have dropped 20 points — from 71 percent June 15 to 51 percent July 31.

The company credits a publicity campaign telling motorists to get their cars fixed for the reduction.

The announcement comes at a time when taxi drivers and other commercial haulers are preparing a prolonged work stoppage to protest the vehicle inspection process.

Riteve changed the rule a month ago and now charges for reinspections. Reinspection cost 4,400 colons, some $10 at the current exchange rate, half the initial inspection cost. Earlier reinspections were free. Taxis and other commercial vehicles must be inspected twice a year.

The company said that rejections at the first visit by trucks have not decreased. The company announcement blamed a June 22 decree that mandated additional reflectors on such commercial vehicles.

Taxi drivers have been meeting for several days and plan some form of protest or work stoppage for today. Some bus operators are expected to take part.

San José got lights
120 years ago

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is celebrating the 120th anniversary of the electrification of San José.

The communications group also owns the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz S.A. The company reported Monday that San José was the second city in the world to get lighting. The company said that less than two years after Thomas Edison illuminated New York, two Costa Ricans, Manuel Victor Dengo and Luis Batres García y Granados, illuminated what was then known as the Avenida de las Damas to the Iglesia del Carmen.

The two men were instrumental in the founding of the Compañía Eléctrica de Costa Rica in 1883 and the establishment of the first generating station in Barrio Aranjuéz in northeast San José, said ICE.

Top cops discuss organized crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heads of police agencies and intelligence services from all over Central America and the Caribbean will be meeting this week in San José.

The meeting is designed to continue the fight against organized crime, including gangs and situations that put children at risk. The meeting will end Friday.

New Peace Corps volunteers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Peace Corps will be swearing in 13 new volunteers this week, bringing to 68 the number working in Costa Rica.

An announcement from the U.S. Embassy said that the new group will work in various parts of the country under the jurisdiction of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

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A.M. Costa Rica
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.

James J. Brodell.........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas.... associate editor

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If you say his name, you might break the law!
New U.S. campaign law muzzles local Democrats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Shhhhhh! There is some kind of gathering Aug. 28 but the local (censored) Abroad can only tell you that some woman named Diana is going to be here.

If we mention that her last name is Kerry and that she is the sister of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, local (censoreds) will have apoplexy.

What is being demonstrated here in Costa Rica is what U.S. Supreme Court justices have called the "chilling effect." Said a note from Democrats Abroad last week as the group provided a calendar item:

"We cannot mention Democrats Abroad or John Kerry for legal reasons (don't ask!)  If people don't know who Diana Kerry is (his sister), we're out of luck"

A newspaper ad in The Tico Times also does not mention the family relationship of Diana Kerry. The event is billed as a get-out-the vote event even though Ms. Kerry is president of Americans Abroad for Kerry.

Local Democrats normally like to shout their political preferences from the rooftops.  But the new McCain-Feingold law, more properly called the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, has them wringing their hands.

They are concerned that any support they may give John Kerry will be interpreted as a coordinated communication that must be reported as party income. The Democrats are perhaps a bit too uptight on the law. For example, all Internet communications (i.e. A.M. Costa Rica) are specifically excluded from the law. But the while law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme court last December by a 5-4 vote.

That didn’t stop dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia from saying: 

"This is a sad day for the freedom of speech. Who could have imagined that the same court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restriction upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications, and sexually explicit cable programming, would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government. . ." 

The main purpose of the McCain-Feingold law is to regulate soft money and election communications. 

The bill is named for John McCain, the Arizona Republican, and Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat. Soft money is contributions directed to state parties that have not been regulated in the past the way contributions to national political parties have been regulated.

The law has some special rules for overseas U.S. citizens. Contributions from foreigners are banned, and that includes even small admission charges to partisan events.

In addition, get-out-the-vote events like the one Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica plans for Aug. 28 cannot be used as a forum to endorse a candidate (i.e. John Kerry) or the money spent to host the event counts as a political contribution. 

So the Democrats must hold their Aug. 28 picnic voter registration drive without mentioning John Kerry. Or Ralph Nader, for that matter.

Carlos Walker Uribe is a coordinator for Overseas Vote 2004, an organization set up by the Democratic National Committee. Although he says he is not an expert on campaign financing and McCain Feingold, he did say in an e-mail message:

". . . it is my understanding that any communication (advertisements in particular) in print or traditional media (newspapers, TV, radio, flyers, mass mailings) is restricted to either non-partisan communication (no mention either directly or indirectly of a federal candidate or party), or else it must be reported as part of the party's $16 million that they are allowed to spend on 'coordinated communication' with the candidate's campaign."

The campaign reform law is a reaction to massive spending by special interest groups in previous campaigns. 

For those who want to go to the picnic, here is the announcement from Democrats Abroad for Saturday, Aug. 28:

U.S. citizens in Costa Rica are invited to meet Diana Kerry and register to vote absentee at a tented barbecue picnic, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (rain or shine) at a beautiful family farm in the mountains of Aserrí (south of San Jose via Desemparados). 

Lunch and musical entertainment 5,000 colons. Bring a sweater in case of cool weather, talk politics, and have some fun! Free bus transportation from Escazú, La Sabana and downtown San José Reservations are required. For driving directions or bus information and to reserve, contact Ruth via e-mail at dixonmueller@yahoo.com

Amnesty launches campaign for indigenous rights
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Amnesty International is launching a campaign to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples. The effort corresponds with the U.N. International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. 

Amnesty International says the estimated 370 million indigenous peoples around the world continue to endure widespread discrimination, impoverishment and ill-health. It says their unique cultural identities are threatened, their lands are confiscated and they are subject to armed violence.

Amnesty argues the failure to respect and uphold indigenous peoples' rights to land and other economic, social and cultural rights is at the heart of conflicts that often lead to political killings.

An Amnesty expert on indigenous rights, Joshua Cooper, says the aim of the campaign is to put pressure on governments to adopt the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"To put key pressure on certain governments that have really been obstructive, and actually try to take away even the legal rights that have been recognized under international law from indigenous peoples," Cooper said. "And, on that front, we are going to try and work over the next five months on key dates to put pressure on governments." 

The campaign goes until the end of the year to correspond with the end of the International 

Decade of Indigenous Peoples. Cooper says Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Japan are mainly responsible for holding up the final draft of the U.N. declaration.

In 1977, governments and indigenous peoples first started work on a declaration to set standards for the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. The U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Rights adopted the draft declaration in 1994. Since then, little progress has been made in agreeing on the final wording of the text.

Les Malezer, who is from Australia and co-chairman of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, says the stand-off must be resolved by early next year when the U.N. Human Rights Commission reviews progress. If little or nothing has been achieved by then, he says, it is possible the commission might stop the process.

"Only two of the 45 articles have received any form of endorsement, and those articles simply say — one of them says, all indigenous individuals have the right to a nationality, and the other one says that indigenous women have the same rights as indigenous men. Now, as you can imagine, that is not a great breakthrough in human rights, and certainly no breakthrough for human rights for indigenous peoples," Malezer said.

Amnesty International says its campaign's success will hinge in large measure on mobilizing citizens to pressure their governments to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. 

Supporters of President Chavez hold big rally in Caracas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  President Hugo Chavez rallied supporters in Caracas late Sunday, one week before a recall referendum that could remove him from office.

Chavez predicted that he would win the Aug. 15 referendum. He accused the United States of backing efforts to oust him from power, a charge Washington denies.

A Chavez political ally estimated that 900,000 

people took part in the rally. The fire chief in Caracas said only that the crowd was "well over 100,000." Opposition activists held a smaller counter-demonstration in another part of the city.

Public opinion polls indicate voters are closely divided over the recall referendum, which was initiated by opponents of the Venezuelan president.

Supporters praise Chavez as a champion of the poor, while critics accuse him of wrecking the economy and trying to establish a Cuban-style Communist state. 

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U.S. working to reduce sale of bogus drug products
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. officials are working with their Mexican counterparts to stop the sale of counterfeit medicine in Mexico, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced.

The FDA said in a statement that several U.S. citizens recently returned from the Mexican town of Algodones, on the border with the U.S. state of California, with counterfeit versions of the cholesterol drug Zocor and a generic painkiller called Carisoprodol.

The FDA said that the fake Zocor did not contain any of the actual cholesterol-lowering ingredient, and the counterfeit Carisoprodol was far less potent than real versions of the painkiller.

The FDA, which is responsible for assuring the safety and effectiveness of a range of products having to do with public health, warned that patients who use the counterfeit Zocor face serious health risks from their untreated cholesterol, and that those taking the fake painkiller will get insufficient relief. Counterfeit medications may also contain incorrect ingredients or improper dosages of the correct ingredients, the FDA said.

The agency said the selling of counterfeit drugs is a growing problem. While the fakes are sometimes sneaked into U.S. drugstores, the agency said that medicine sold from abroad and/or over the Internet is more likely to be fraudulent than medicine sold at drugstores. Sales of foreign and Internet-shipped drugs are increasing as people search for cheaper medications, the FDA said.

The agency said it is investigating the sale of the counterfeit drugs and working with the Mexican authorities "to ensure that further sale and importation of these products is halted."

The United States defines counterfeit drugs as those sold under a product name without proper authorization. Counterfeiting can apply to both brand-name and generic products, where the identity of the source is deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled in a way that suggests that it is the authentic approved product. Counterfeit products may include products without the active ingredient, with an insufficient quantity of the active ingredient, with the wrong active ingredient, or with fake packaging.

The FDA said drug counterfeiting is difficult to detect, investigate, and quantify, and thus it is hard to know or even estimate the true extent of the problem. But what is known, the FDA said, is that drug counterfeiting occurs worldwide and is more prevalent in developing countries. 

It is estimated that upwards of 10 percent of drugs sold worldwide are counterfeit, and in some countries more than 50 percent of the drug supply is made up of counterfeit drugs.

Meanwhile, the United States and Mexico are preparing for the U.S.-Mexico "Border Binational Health Week" Oct. 11 to 17, designed to heighten border communities' awareness of activities that foster better health and of the availability of health-care services.

Activities at various cities along the U.S.-Mexico border will include several conferences on diabetes, events to promote prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, an immunization campaign for children and a policy forum on migrant health.

Binational Health Week will be inaugurated Oct. 11 with a ceremony in the city of Leon, Mexico, with Mexican President Vicente Fox and U.S. and Mexican health officials scheduled to participate.

12 percent of U.S. population was born in another country
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Almost 12 percent of the U.S. population was born in another country, most of them in Latin America, according to the latest findings from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The nation's foreign-born population is estimated to be 33.5 million, with slightly more than half from Latin America, 25 percent from Asia, 14 percent 

from Europe, and the remainder from other regions.

Most foreign-born residents live in the western region of the United States. This population segment is also young — 45 percent are between ages 25 and 44.

Detailed tables on the findings are available HERE!

The full report is available HERE!

New Web site promotes protection of endangered coral reefs
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched a new Web site of useful information on coral reefs, including grants, products and services from the agency's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

The Web site supports the program's mission to provide effective management and sound science to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems. The site highlights funding opportunities, news and highlights, outreach and 

education, information about the program and coral reef ecosystem fact sheets.

The Coral Reef Conservation Program is a partnership among NOAA offices that work on coral reef issues, including the National Ocean Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service. The program also supports partnerships with scientific, private, government and nongovernmental groups at local, state, federal and international levels.

Jo Stuart
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