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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 158
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Rumors cause a run on major San José bank
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

BAC San José, one of the country’s strongest private banks, is in the midst of a run that officials think was sparked by rumors fabricated in bad faith.

The bank, based downtown, has about 20 branches around the country and is popularly considered a customer service-oriented organization for businessmen.

The rumor started Monday afternoon and by Tuesday crowds of depositors were at the various branches at least in the Central Valley seeking return of their money. When the banks closed at 7 p.m., some depositors tried to withdraw money via automatic teller machines. Others camped in front of the bank so they would be near the head of the line when offices open at 8 a.m. today.

A.M. Costa Rica became aware of the rumor about midday Tuesday. A number of expats prefer the institution, formerly called Banco de San José, over the national banks.

By 7 p.m. the manager of the bank, Gerardo Corrales Breñes, took to the television to assure depositors that there was no reason for the 

bank run and that there was no open investigation of the bank. Curiously, the bank did not post anything to its overworked Web page to assure depositors.

Costa Ricans seem to be engaged in the bank run because they fear another collapse. Bantec and more recently Banco Elka were shut down by the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras, the government oversight agency.

In addition, there is a general fear of the economy and distrust in the government’s ability to protect citizens from economic woes.

Luis Diego Vargas, president of the Consejo Nacional de Supervisión del Sistema Financiero, called operations at BAC San José absolutely normal in a television interview. It was he who cited the bad faith aspects of the rumor.

Oscar Rodriguez of the Superintendencia, said in the same segment that BAC San José is a very strong institution. He and Vargas agreed that deliberately circulating rumors to harm a business was a crime in Costa Rica.

Alfonso Rodriquez was not overly concerned. 
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
A fast food worker and friends seeks her pay
Teller machines were out of service for evening withdrawals
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Automatic tellers of BAC San José were out of service last night. Some depositors went through the downtown unsuccessfully seeking a machine that would return them some of their money.

Some were unhappy, including one employee of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Paseo Colón who said her employer had just deposited salaries into 

the bank. She was unable to make a withdrawal.

Even as late as 10:30 p.m. depositors were trying to make withdrawals.

Bank officials had posted a message from Gerardo Corrales Breñes, the general manager. But it said little more than he had said on a television show. Officials also posted in one place a page of the La Nación Web site that said the bank panic was without foundation.

 

 
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Immigration law unchanged despite Piercy pitch
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two representatives of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica were at an Asamblea Nacional committee meeting Tuesday to defend the existing immigration law.

Reports from the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración say that they did not make much headway.

Ryan Piercy, executive director of the association, and Lilliana Torres, a lawyer for the association, were there, according to a commission report.

The members of the commission heard that the pair wanted to defend aspects of the current immigration law. A new rewrite eliminates the rentista category that permits someone of whatever age to move to Costa Rica and live here legally as long as they can show a $60,000 bank account.

The pair told lawmakers that rentistas are an important group of foreigners who do not use state services like housing loans or the social security system.  Instead, this group generates millions of dollars of resources for the country, they said.

Humberto Arce of the Bloque Patriótico Parlamentario was listed as one committee member who was unimpressed by the presentation. His opinion was shared by enough committee members so that there were no changes made in the proposed law, according to a report later.

Piercy has warned in the past that the new rewrite also gives immigration staffers and not lawmakers the power to increase the amount of money needed to obtain residency as a pensionado, that is someone of retirement age with a recognized pension. Piercy and others fear that immigration staffers will raise the amount high enough so that most would-be foreign residents here would not have the funds or the income to live here legally.


 
 
Child-sex charges
bring 45-year term

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen probably will spend the rest of his life in prison here if his sentence of 45 years is confirmed by a higher court.

The man, Thomas Scott Cochran, 39, was convicted Tuesday along with a Costa Rican for a number of sex crimes involving juveniles. Cochran is reported to have AIDS, so it is not likely he ever will get out of jail if the sentence is confirmed.

Cochran was sentenced to 154 years in jail, but the net term is 45 years under Costa Rican law. His co-defendant, Manuel Pérez Chaves, got 25 years, which is shortened to 18 years.

The men were convicted of having sexual relations with minor youth, of producing pornographic videos involving minors and of supplying drugs to minors.

In all, 11 youngsters testified, although prosecutors claim he may have been involved with many more. 

Cochran was arrested in January 2003 in Rohrmoser where he had moved after police began paying close attention to his home in Barrio Dent on the other side of San José. When they conducted a raid, Cochran was in bed with a 14-year-old agents said at the time.

Cochran was distributing the child porno via a commercial operation in California. The youngsters were mainly children from low-income homes he encountered on the streets, investigators said.

In addition to criminal penalties, the men face civil penalties, including money payments to each of their victims.

Book exchange fair
planned next week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The annual book exchange fair is coming Saturday, Aug. 21, and Sunday, Aug. 22, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This is an event held each year at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, the headquarters of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes just east of Parque España between avenidas 3 and 7 north of the downtown.

Most of the books will be in Spanish, Organizers are offering to stockpile books from those who wish to participate and bring their books to be exchanged earlier. Organizers may be contacted at 305-6074 or by e-mail to eugalde@clubdelibros.com

Nicoya inspections
delayed by power cut

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Riteve S y C vehicle inspection station in Nicoya, Guanacaste, will be closed Thursday because the local electricity provider there is making some changes.

The company said that the Cooperative de Electrificación Rural de Guanacaste has to replace some aging power poles, so electricity will be cut off at the site. Those with appointments, for the most part, have been rescheduled, the company said.  Those with questions can call (905) 788-0000.

Riteve noted that this month vehicles with the last license plate digit of 8 or 9 should be inspected.

H-P will open new center

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hewlett-Packard announced Tuesday that it would open a new center for administrative outsourcing in Costa Rica. The company has been here a year. The firm, which has a total of 362 employees here,  handles accounting for Procter & Gamble in the Western Hemisphere, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The new center will be the company’s sixth worldwide.

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Aug. 23 is the day picked for nationwide strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Leaders of some 75 labor groups plan a general strike Monday, Aug. 23, that they say will paralyze the nation.

Each group has its own reasons for the strike. Public employees want a raise bigger than 4.5 percent for the last half of the 2004 fiscal year. Taxi and bus drivers want Retive S y C, the vehicle inspection monopoly, shut down.

Organizers predict that some 25,000 vehicles will be parked on the streets and roads of the nation to stop traffic. The plans were outlined at a press conference Tuesday morning.

Taxi and bus drivers had been planning their own strike for this week, but now they will wait for the day picked by the other unions.

Another grievance is the free trade treaty with the 

United States which some public employees see as damaging their organizations by providing more competition. 

Organizers also promised to strike hospitals and docks.

A nationwide general strike has been promised since the government and public employee groups could not come to terms for a semi-annual raise. President Abel Pacheco finally decreed the amount of the raise because of the snag in negotiations.

On another labor front, the government is planning to sweeten its offer to striking air traffic controllers by about $120 a month in the hopes that they will return to work. The reasons for the six-week controller strike are complex but includes demands for money promised but not delivered by the government. The Pacheco government has taken steps to fire the strikers. Controllers from other Latin countries have been supervising the skies. 


 
Venezuela threatens to block news reports of referendum voting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS. Venezuela — The Venezuelan government says it will block the broadcast signals of local news organizations if they report early results from Sunday's recall referendum against President Hugo Chavez.

The head of the National Electoral Council, Francisco Carrasquero, issued the warning after the opposition said it would obtain preliminary results and announce them.  Public opinion polls indicate 

voters are equally split over the referendum. 

Venezuela's opposition initiated the referendum process, which, if successful, would lead to new presidential elections in 30 days. If the recall measure is defeated, Chavez will remain in power until December 2006.

Critics accuse President Chavez of wrecking the economy and trying to establish a Cuban-style Communist dictatorship. Supporters hail him as a champion of the poor.


 
El Salvador's president off courting the Taiwanese government
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador —  President Elias Antonio Saca began a five-day visit to Taiwan Tuesday. 

Saca is expected to hold talks with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and other senior government and business officials to discuss increasing economic cooperation between the two sides. 

Saca also is scheduled to visit the national assembly

and speak at a democracy conference in the capital, Taipei.  Salvadoran officials say President Saca hopes to persuade Taiwanese electronics companies to set up factories in El Salvador. 

El Salvador is one of only 26 countries that has official diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Costa Rica is another.

Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province, and has threatened to attack if Taipei declares independence. 


 
This story was published Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 157
and you still can respond to it!
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.


 
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U.S. central bank raises key interest rate slightly
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, has raised a key short-term interest rate by a quarter point, the second such increase in less than two months. The Federal Reserve acknowledged recent weaknesses in the U.S. economy but reaffirmed its outlook for stronger expansion. 

The modest .25 percent hike in the so-called Federal Funds rate, which banks charge each other for overnight loans, was widely anticipated by economists and market-watchers. The rate now stands at 1.5 percent, half a point higher than the all-time low of 1 percent that prevailed just six weeks ago, but still relatively low by historical standards. The Federal Funds rate stood above 6 percent as recently as 2001. 

Economist Desmond Lachman of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute says, just as important as the rate hike itself is the accompanying statement in which the Federal Reserve signaled its thinking for possible future action. The statement noted that "output growth has moderated and the pace of improvement in labor market conditions has slowed." 

Last week, the Labor Department reported job creation was at a much slower pace than had been 

anticipated. Lachman said softness in the economy precludes aggressive interest rate hikes. 

"The economy has not firmly begun growing at a rate that would make one worried about inflation," said Desmond Lachman. "There are a lot of downside risks to the growth outlook. So, the Fed has, correctly in my view, taken the decision that they should be raising interest rates at a measured pace." 

But the Federal Reserve also said that recent signs of economic weakness are largely attributable to soaring energy prices, which it described as "transitory", and that "the economy appears poised to resume a stronger pace of expansion . . . . "

Lachman said the Federal Reserve must tread a fine line between raising rates too quickly, which could snuff out economic expansion, and not raising them quickly enough, which could cause the economy to overheat. 

The overall trend is toward higher interest rates in the United States, but at a slower pace than many economists had anticipated just a few months ago, he added.

Rate increases in the United States generally spark interest rate hikes elsewhere as well, especially in countries that peg their currency to the dollar.


 
Conference in Quito seeks to eliminate landmines
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

QUITO, Ecuador — A regional conference here Thursday and Friday will examine how to rid the Western Hemisphere of anti-personnel landmines.

The Organization of American States, one of the organizers of the event along with Canada and Ecuador, said about 40 government, multilateral, and civil society organizations will be represented at the Quito conference, where participants will share lessons learned in various aspects of mine action in the Americas. The U.S. State Department will be sending officials from its mine-action team.

The conference, which is being billed as "One Step Towards an Anti-Personnel Mine-Free Hemisphere," will review the progress of mine action, which encompasses mine clearance, survivors assistance, and mine-risk education in the Western Hemisphere.

The Organization of American States said that in 2001 it entered into an agreement with Ecuador and Peru to support mine-clearing activities on the border region the two countries share. That agreement covers a variety of issues, including preventive education, victim rehabilitation, and destruction of existing stockpiles. Since the beginning of 2004, some 500,000 stockpiled 

landmines have been destroyed, making the border area between both countries mine-free, the organization said.

Under its Comprehensive Mine Action Program, the organization has also provided mine-clearing aid to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Costa Rica has recently been declared mine free after a lengthy clean-up effort of explosives remaining along the border after the Nicaraguan civil war.

The Bush administration announced a new policy under which the United States will accelerate its efforts to end the global humanitarian problem of landmines by eliminating all of its own non-self-destructing landmines and by increasing funding for mine-action programs worldwide. The State Department said the new policy provides a strong push to end the humanitarian risks posed by landmines.

Under the new policy, the United States after 2010 will use neither long-lasting anti-personnel landmines or anti-vehicle landmines.

In addition, the United States will lead an international effort to conclude a worldwide ban on the sale or export of all long-lasting mines, with minor exceptions for training purposes.


 
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