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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 164
Jo Stuart
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Memorial for slain University of Kansas student Shannon Martin is adjacent to the home in which she lived and about 200 feet from where her body was found May 13, 2001.
A.M. Costa Rica photos by Christian Burnham
Happy shopper and kids make off with a television
Golfito braces for worst with end of depósito
Golfito, the former banana town was lifted from economic woes when government officials set up
a tax-free sales depot. Now the community faces the possible end of that concession.
The town has taken its hits, but some there are planning for new ways to keep alive the economy in far southwestern Costa Rica. Tourism is one hope for sustainable income if the stores go.
See our report and more photos: BELOW!

Pacheco seeks to make country competitive
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

By executive order, President Abel Pacheco created a National Council of Competitiveness Monday and named eight officials, most of them ministers, to serve on it.

Pacheco wants the commission to establish the policies and the mechanisms to facilitate the development of national firms facing the challenge of globalization., according to a release from Casa Presidencial.

"I want to see Costa Rica reaching the highest peaks. We have the capacity to fly high," said the president.

The commission also will include a number of representatives from business organizations who have not yet been named.

The commission is part of a National Plan of Competitiveness that is linked to the Internet 2 project that will improve telecommunications and the national network.

The new commission will work in five areas, according to the president: infrastructure, energy, telecommunications, financial reform and insurance.

Pacheco said that the commission has the job of rebuilding the confidence of citizens in the institutions with a transparent and responsible management of resources.

Pacheco also took the opportunity to make a patriotic appeal to legislators to provide a solution to the country’s fiscal problem. This has been a recurring theme of the president in the last week as he pushed for approval of his emergency fiscal plan by the Asemblea Nacional. He wants new taxes.

"You are not going to sleep the sleep of the just," he said of legislators. "This would be terrible for Costa Rica."

He said the executive branch has taken concrete actions to clean up the public finances and that now what is needed is the support of the legislature.

The members of the new commission are Rina Contreras, minister of the Presidencia, Vilma Villalobos, minister of Economia; Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior; Rodolfo Coto, Agricultura y Ganadaría; Ovidio Pacheco, minister of Trabajo; Rubén Pacheco, Turismo; Javier Caves, Transportes and Ronulfo Jiménez., coordinator of the Consejo Económico

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Pollution and raw sewage make bay unhealthy
Distant Golfito contemplates an economic disaster
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The road leading to Golfito is cluttered with massive billboards trumpeting the best bargains in the country. Every weekend, hordes of bargain hunters flock to the depósito libre located in the port town. That’s where thrifty consumers go to avoid the 13 percent national sales tax on consumer goods in Costa Rica.

In the past several months, the tax-free zone has been a hot topic among golfiteños. Many predict that it will close within the next two years, due to government action and a recent influx of competitors. Such talk has locals and business owners on the edge of their seats.

The depósito libre is an outdoor mall comprised of 38 private stores filled with electronics and home appliances. Some stores offer luxury items such as clothing, alcohol, toys, and health care products. According to the depósito libre officials, the stores pull in approximately $1 million per week.

With a backdrop of lush, forested hills, the real jungle of consumerism buzzes with activity. Uniformed sales people lure passers-by into their air-conditioned stores. "Que busca?" they ask, calculators in hand, ready to give a quote, while shoppers scramble from store to store in search of the best price. Others lug heavy boxes to their cars.

Before purchasing merchandise, shoppers must first obtain a card called a derecho de compra. To get one, consumers need only present their passport or cédula residential. The card is valid for the one-time purchase of $500 worth of goods within a six-month period. Since the cards are issued only a day in advance of the purchase, shoppers from afar have to shack up in Golfito for the night, thereby boosting the economy.

Shoppers travel great distances, many as far as San Jose, some 309 kms. (192 miles) to get a deal on big-ticket items. Transport companies will ship bulkier items such as refrigerators and washing machines by semi-trucks, charging 3 percent of the item. Since the costs to travel to Golfito, lodging, and food, are less than Costa Rica’s hefty sales tax, the money saved on the purchases made in the tax-free zone makes the trip worthwhile.

Despite the tremendous values promised to its visitors, Golfito has been home to economic hardship for many of its residents. The government established the town as a duty-free zone in 1990 to offset the effect of the United Fruit Company’s departure in 1985.

It was a difficult time for the region. For two years prior to the banana company’s departure, the area was beset with political tensions on the Costa Rican-Panamanian border. Communist agitators in Panamá were amassing an army, and many believed they were preparing to invade the southern zone of Costa Rica, according to residents.

Squatters took over land and started causing problems for the company. So the firm pulled out, leaving a large economic void. Soon thereafter, real estate bottomed out and a mass exodus of residents resulted. "This place was like a ghost town," said Marlene Cieri, a tourism adviser in Golfito.

While the depósito provided an instant boom in the economy, its profits have narrowed in recent years, no longer able to compete with discounts stores, such as Pricemart, that are popping up in all major cities in Costa Rica. In April of 2001, a fire gutted 11 stores and the reconstruction of these stores has not yet begun.

In a recent meeting between the Chamber of Eco-tourism in Golfito and five senators representing the southern zone of Costa Rica, there was a consensus that the closing of the depósito libre is imminent.

President Abel Pacheco proposed closing the depósito libre as part of his fiscal plan to readjust the tax burden in Costa Rica.

The closing would no doubt have a devastating effect on Golfito. The depósito libre employs approximately 2,000 people. A bevy of hotels, bars, and restaurants rely on the tourism that the tax-free zone draws in. Without the depósito libre, Golfito would have very little hope in maintaining a local economy, residents believe.

Golfito took another small hit in July when the University of Kansas said it would move its tropical study program for U.S. students from the town to the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro.

The university expressed concern about student safety after the brutal murder of one of its students, Shannon Martin, May 13, 2001. Three persons are in custody.

Though many use Golfito as a jumping-off point for touring other destinations in the southern part of Costa Rica including Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Pavones, and Golfo Dulce, few stay for more than a day or two. Besides shopping, there isn’t much to do in Golfito.

At night, the city center is dominated by one activity: barhopping. More than 50 bars are crammed into the town’s center. According to the 

Remains of fire more than a year ago

Fureza Pública in Golfito, drug related crimes are prevalent and continue to rise, particularly involving crack cocaine. Prostitution is rampant. 

Whether the warning of the depósito libre closing is authentic or just a wake up call, the Chamber of Tourism in Golfito is already preparing for the blow. The office, which opened a month and a half ago, is dedicated to creating sustainable sources of income for Golfito residents.

The tourism office is sponsoring a free two-month course to locals starting Aug. 29. The curriculum of the course includes basic English skills and tourism etiquette. According to the office, demand for the course is high and many of those enrolled are depósito libre employees. 

Manuel Arroyo Chavarria, president of the Chamber of Eco-tourism, is dedicated to preventing Golfito from falling into another depression. In a letter to local business leaders, he proposed a three-point plan of action to counter the possible closing of the duty-free stores.

First, Arroyo recommended that oysters and clams be cultivated in the bay. "This untapped resource would employ women and men of all ages for years," he said.

Second, the tourism chief called for the construction of a maintenance dock for local and international boats. "It would bring in a need for laborers, such as carpenters, electricians, painters, etc," he said. As of now, boaters needing repairs must travel elsewhere.

Third, Arroyo suggested that a new sewerage system be built to counter the city’s pollution problem. Currently, the city’s tainted water empties directly into the bay. Chavarria envisions a series of tanks located around the bay that would collect the waste product. After undergoing an oxidation process, the water would be transported by pipes to farmlands located in the Antigua Lecheria where it could be used as fertilizer.

In addition, Arroyo is also behind a land development project to create a public beach, something the town does not now have. The office said these investments are necessary to ensure Golfito doesn’t fall into another depression.

While some are anticipating the worst for Golfito, others remain optimist. "People have been saying the same thing for years," said Zaira Barquero, a free port employee, "and we’re still here."

This burglar found
asleep at the switch

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A would-be thief broke into the Chamber Eco-Tourism office located in central Golfito Aug. 9 and nodded off before making his getaway.

Marlene Cieri, a tourism adviser, said she arrived to the office early the next morning and noticed something strange: All the office equipment was unplugged.

She entered the bathroom and noticed that one of the planks supporting the storage space above had been moved. Using the toilet as a footstool, she peeked up through the gap and saw a man who was fast asleep in the crawl space.

After plugging in the phone/fax machine, Ms. Cieri dialed the Fureza Pública. Officers arrived a few minutes later and woke up the groggy burglar. A crack pipe along with other drug paraphernalia and a knife were found on him.

The thief, approximately 5’6" and 130 pounds, had crawled through a tiny ventilation window, the diameter of one cinder block. The man claimed to be from Puntarenas.

They deduced that after breaking into the office and discovering some stuff to loot, he celebrated by smoking a crack rock. After catching his buzz, he must have passed out, only to be caught the next morning.

Manuel Arroyo Chavarría, president of Chamber of Eco-Tourism in Golfito, decided not to press charges so long as the man promised to leave the area, Ms. Cieri said.

Street youth killed after social workers sweep city
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A street youth whose name still is unknown died from a knife wound early Monday, and a child welfare activist suggests that the death might have something to do with complaints about police abuse.

A Judicial Investigating Organization said a guard at a restaurant found the youth shortly after midnight in the parking lot and called rescue workers. The restaurant is on Calle 14 between avenidas 8 and 10, according to investigators.

The youth died a short time later from the knife wound in the abdomen, said investigators. His age was estimated at about 15.

"The killing happened just at the time when boys and girls of the street had complained of being victims of physical and sexual abuse by some members of the Costa Rica police," said the director of Casa Alianza, the child welfare group, in a statement to newspapers.

The killing also happened on a weekend when police and representatives of the Patronado Nacional de la Infancia took to the streets to find youngsters. The sweep Friday night located 18 so-called "at risk" youngsters, said police.

The sweep was designed in part to reduce the possibilities of child prostitution. Some 11 youngsters went into custody in the downtown, 

and police grabbed seven youngsters near the Centro Comercial El Pueblo, a popular group of restaurants and dance clubs in north San José. Many children were working as street vendors.

The Casa Alianza version of the youngster’s murder came over the name of Bruce Harris, the Latin American director for the organization.

He identified the youth by the street name "El Negrillo," and identified the restaurant as Lonchería la Moderna.

Harris noted that officials suspended one policeman last week after he admitted on television that he had kicked and beaten youngsters on the street to lower his stress level.

President Abel Pacheco ordered an investigation into police who abuse youngsters during a community policing meeting Aug. 10. "Nothing justifies the aggression directed at our socially-at-risk sons and daughters at the hand of the agents of security and order," the president said.

Harris did not say why he thought there might be some connection between the murder of the 15-year-old and police complaints. But he did say that Casa Alianza and the patronato, the government child welfare agency, are about finished with a study of street children. The results of the study will be made public at the end of the month, he said.

Brazil to host forum
on micro-enterprise

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, DC — Rio de Janeiro will host the fifth Inter-American Forum on Micro-enterprise September 9-11, which more than 1,000 delegates are expected to attend, announced the Inter-American Development Bank.

The Inter-American Development Bank, one of the event's sponsors, said in a statement that micro-enterprises — very small businesses producing goods or services for cash income — generate nearly half the jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The forum will focus on how countries in the region can create favorable political, economic and financial conditions to foster the development of micro-enterprise and micro-finance.

Topics on the agenda include how legal and regulatory reforms can help or hinder micro-enterprises, how governments can cut "red tape" to bring more businesses into the mainstream economy, what institutional and social factors encourage entrepreneurship, how larger financial institutions can cater to micro-entrepreneurs, and the differences between the Latin American and Asian models of micro-finance.

The forum will bring together delegates from non-governmental organizations, commercial banks, credit cooperatives, community groups, consulting firms, philanthropic foundations, investment funds, bilateral and multilateral institutions, and government agencies.

The Inter-American Development Bank said it sees micro-enterprise as a key instrument for stimulating economic growth and reducing poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the Bank said micro-enterprises "still lack access to formal financial services and adequate training opportunities that can help them become more productive and prosper."

Enrique Iglesias, Inter-American Development Bank President, who will address the micro-enterprise forum Sept. 9, said: "These tiny businesses are the key to survival for millions of families in our region, especially during economic crisis. In these times, supporting micro-enterprise development is both an economic and a social imperative."

Also addressing the forum will be Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso; Sergio Navajas, from the U.S. Agency for International Development; a number of representatives from U.S. private industry and from micro-finance organizations such as Accion International, an umbrella organization for a network of micro lending institutions in Latin America and Africa.

Also participating will be the non-profit Foundation for International Community Assistance, with offices in Washington, D.C., which provides financing to the world's poorest families so they can create their own jobs.

Immigration chief
quitting job soon 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — James Ziglar, Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, told his employees Friday that he intends to return to the private sector. He set no specific date for his departure, saying that he would remain to assist in transition to a new Homeland Security Department but that he planned to depart no later than the end of the year.

The immigration service has been under intense criticism since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and later when the Immigration Service mailed visas to several of the dead terrorists.

Judges visit shooting site

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three judges and a host of support personnel visited Gaby’s Bar in Playas del Coco Friday to see the place where bar owner Roger Crouse shot a man.

A court aide said that the trial of Crouse on a murder charge would continue Aug. 27. Crouse, a Canadian, has been in jail more than a year and said that the killing was in self-defense. 

Pope ending visit
to Polish homeland

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

KALWARIA ZEBRYDOWSKA, Poland — Pope John Paul II, wrapping up an emotional homecoming here, prayed Monday for the physical and spiritual strength to continue his work "to the end." The prayer at the pope's last public appearance in Poland was the clearest sign to date that he has no intention to resign, despite his failing health.

The pope was greeted by thousands of Poles in traditional embroidered dress, as he concluded his nostalgic journey home with a mass marking the 400th anniversary of the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary.

The baroque hilltop monastery, with 42 chapels that depict Biblical scenes surrounding the death of Jesus, is one of the places where the pope often prayed and walked in contemplation while he was a boy growing up in nearby Wadowice.

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was the last official stop on the pope's sentimental visit, which has taken him to a sanctuary where he prayed under Nazi occupation, the cathedral where he said his first mass as a priest, and his parents' graves.

He also referred to his own mortality during the emotionally charged mass.

The pope spoke about the apostles and the suffering of Jesus Christ, then mentioned his own ailments and suggested that his life was in Gods' hands. In a prayer, he asked the Virgin Mary to give him strength in body and spirit to, in his words, "carry out to the end" the mission given to him. 

The pope suffers from Parkinson's disease and other ailments. 

He is revered by Poles for inspiring resistance to communism and for steadying them during painful economic changes since communism fell in 1989. 

On the final day of his ninth return to his homeland, he repeated that more solidarity should be shown to the poorest people in the country. Poland has an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent and is in its worst economic slowdown in more than a decade.
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