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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 168
Jo Stuart
About us
Photos by Garland M. Baker
Parked trucks clog the Circumvalación bypass on San José south side.

Second day appears to be worse than the first
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the nation verging on chaos because truck drivers are blocking key roadways, more unions promised to join the general strike today, closing secondary schools, affecting utilities and shutting down more public offices.

Meanwhile, President Abel Pacheco, who said his patience is at an end, promised that the government would take unspecified legal measures against the strikers. He spoke on national television about 9 p.m.

More stories BELOW!

The second day of road blockades seemed to be more effective than Monday. More tractor-trailers were in evidence at key points around the country. In some places lines of trucks 10 to 14 kms. long prevent passage of all but motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Administration officials said the strike was hampering ambulance services and preventing the delivery of items such as oxygen tanks to hospitals. 

Pacheco said that citizens have the constitutional right of free transit that a small group of truckers were obstructing.

Negotiators broke off talks in late afternoon, and truckers vowed to stay put. They are at about 30 key points in the country, including the Limón and Moín docks on the Caribbean, both land entry points into Costa Rica and a dozen places in the Central Valley.

The strike so far has stressed transportation workers unhappiness with Riteve, S y C, the company that handles all the vehicle inspections in the country. The company said that its inspection stations in Alajuela, San Carlos and Limón were closed Tuesday. Some 13 other stations around the country were open. A Riteve announcement said the stations were closed as a security measure and because the blockades prevented vehicle owners from showing up.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados will be joining the strike today, as will the unions for workers at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, and the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza, who teach in the nation’s high schools.

The strikers are joined under the banner of Movimiento Cívico Nacional. Truckers have defined the strike for the last two days. With the addition of new unions, more emphasis might be given to salary issues and even to the proposed free trade treaty with the United States and its potential impact on workers in the government monopolies.

Truckers have closed the major autopistas connecting San José with the rest of the country. Travel to and from Cartago was difficult Tuesday, and many employees continued to show up late. 

Many of the tractor cabs have sleeping quarters, so the truckers can spend the night in their vehicles.


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Our readers respond

Common sense switch
was in off position

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Requiem for a Tico Basher 

The rant about "stupid things" published in the Aug. 24 edition of A.M. Costa Rica is a clear example of the common sense switch in the "off" position while unguided fingers hunted and pecked out an unwarranted attack against Costa Rican culture. 

The painted yellow hearts are a part Tico culture and tradition, no less valid than the God-Bless-America blather so endearing to gringos north of the Rio Bravo. And who cares what color they're painted? Costa Rica belongs to the Ticos; if they wish to paint yellow hearts on their highways and byways, they may do so. More power to 'em. Or as a gringo might say, "If you don't like it, lump it." 

By the way, surely the author of the "stupid" letter isn't trying to claim that he has personal knowledge of the traffic systems in some 100 countries around the world. How would he know that "in most countries, anything yellow on a street means 'do not cross'"? 

Engaging the mind before putting one's fingers in gear helps to prevent being on the receiving end of editorial broadsides when poorly-considered and unsubstantiated claims are made. The "stupid letter" writer also portends to have a quick fix for the problem of squatters near Juan Santamaría Airport. My, oh my, what would the rest of us do for entertainment without such comments? 

In case the reader hasn't noticed, this is Costa Rica, not Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib prison. People here are not enamored of violence or the presence of jack-booted gendarmes dragging people from their homes in the pale moonlight. 

The lack of a standing army should have been a clue. The squatters are a problem, and sooner or later, they will be dealt with under law. If that solution isn't acceptable, then I remind the reader that Costa Rica is not a prison. He is free to return to "Disneyland" whenever he wishes. 

Once back home, he will be able to devote his considerable problem-solving zeal to stamping out government-corporate collusion and electoral sleight-of-hand in the U.S.A.

Stocker Brown 
U.S. is not perfect
and stupidity-free

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Has Scott lived in the USA to long. OOps! If you want to write about stupid things, write about the U.S.A.’s health care system. Write about Patriot Act that puts a senator and congressmen on the terrorist list. Write about the secretary of education labeling teachers as terrorist. Costa Rica may not be perfect but they still think independently and are not clones of the U.S.A. yet.

God Bless you---- 

Jonathan Smith 
Vehicle imports added
to ‘stupid things’ list

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I unfortunately agreed with the "List of Stupid Things" comment from a reader you had in your Aug. 24th edition, despite the fact that I now reside here and love so much that the country has to offer. 

It seems like the government too often, whether on a local or national level, makes decisions like the "gang that can't shoot straight." For example, the government has virtually brought importing cars into this country to a standstill, stopping what has proven to be one of their most sure-fire methods for actually collecting tax revenue. 

It seems that Costa Rica is no longer accepting the more rigorous emissions testing from the United States to allow cars to be imported, but yet has not made a provision for those cars to be tested here in Costa Rica to be let out of Aduanas. 

So we have a wonderful Catch-22 of only tests in Costa Rica being accepted but you can't get tested in Costa Rica and the government is going without much needed tax revenue that comes from those imports. 

On the local side, the road in Escazú from the Autopista toward the Old Guachipelin Road (past the Multiplaza and the World Gym) just had three new muertos (speed bumps) put in, but g-d forbid they should fix the huge potholes in the road while they were at it. 

Of course, I know there are many others and I could go on-and-on, but that's enough blowing off steam for now, after all I really do love this country. 

Larry Hartman 
Harris case again
in Guatemalan court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The defamation case against Bruce Harris of Casa Aliance here will be before the Guatemalan supreme court Thursday, according to a release from the child welfare agency.

Casa Alianza said that Susana Luarca Caracho de Umaña, the plaintiff in the case, argues that a trial court did not resolve all issues. The charges against Harris are criminal and stem from a press conference in 1997. The trial court found Harris innocent in February.

The plaintiff is the wife of a former president of the supreme court, Casa Alianza noted. She has been involved in the adoption of babies to international clients. The press conference was about irregularities in the international adoption business. The supreme court could reinstate the criminal charge.

Country sends aid
to Paraguay’s burned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has sent 2,407 kilos (5,295 pounds) of medical supplies as humanitarian aid to help those who were injured in the shopping mall fire in Asunción, Paraguay last Aug. 1.

The shipment, carried south by American Airlines, also expresses the solidarity and condolences of the Costa Rican people, according to an announcement quoting Roberto Tovar Faja, the minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The humanitarian aid was put together by the Ministerio de Salud and the Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social, said the announcement.
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Photo by Garland M. Baker
Banner on fence of Ministerio de Hacienda attracts attention from passers-by

Pacheco says demands are unconstitutional, illegal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Strikers are demanding that the government make concessions that are illegal and unconstitutional, President Abel Pacheco said Tuesday night in a television speech to the nation.

He said the blockade of highways was violating the fundamental right of free transit of all Costa Ricans.

"We are not able nor are going to go above the Constitution and the laws to placate an intransigent minority," the president said. He was referring to demands that the government void a contract with Riteve S y C, the vehicle inspection company. A law established the inspection requirement, and Riteve has been in business for nearly three years. Transportation workers call it a monopoly.

"I am sure that Costa Ricans understand that the government cannot tolerate a situation in which a group of persons who at the same time ask for a dialogue, violate the laws with scorn and disrespect to the rights of the rest of the citizens," said Pacheco. He seemed miffed that the strikers promised to lift the blockades to begin the afternoon negotiations and then actually extended them.

Pacheco said the government would proceed to use legal instruments at its disposal to confront the situation created by the strikers. However, he said the government is ready to enter into negotiations based on matters that are not illegal or unconstitutional, and he called on strikers to lift the blockade unconditionally.

Although Pacheco did not specify what legal means might be used against the strikers, Randal Quiros, vice minister of the Presidencia, said later that among other laws, there is one that calls for 15 to 30 days in jail for obstructing highways. He is the chief negotiator for the government.

The government also could obtain a court injunction against the strikers. This may not cause the strikers to back down, but a measure terming the strike unconstitutional would strengthen the government’s hand in negotiations.

Pacheco seemed unhappy that the strikers kept the blockade going a second day. He said originally transport workers sought to stage a demonstration outside the Asamblea Nacional. They did so Monday under the full protection of local police who blocked the major roads so the group could gather in the middle of Avenida Principal.

An analysis on the news
Strikers have some legitimate reasons to protest
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Truckers who block the roads may be disrupting many lives, but they have a number of demands that appear justified.

They destroy their vehicles on roads that are grossly undermaintained and then they have to pass a strict inspection from Riteve S y C, a Spanish-Costa Rican company, that has rejected vehicles for trivial reasons.

Fuel costs went up 25 colons a liter again as of midnight. That’s a little more than five U.S. cents or about 20 cents per gallon. Fuel increases have been weekly events, thanks to the soaring world price of fuel.

Taxi drivers are not well represented in this current strike, but taxi fares have remained the same for four years, adjusted only to reflect the devaluation of the colon. In the meantime, the government has demanded newer cars, uniforms and now meters that can talk to blind passengers. Plus taxis must be inspected twice a year.

Long-time residents agree that road maintenance is terrible. Even some of the roads leading to Riteve inspection stations are challenging.

Truckers and taxi drivers also see Riteve as a foreign firm, even though it is half owned by Costa Ricans. The inspection company tried to get a rate hike early this year in the $20 basic inspection fee. The request was turned down, so the company decreed it would charge $10 for a reinspection. Hardly any vehicles get through the process the 

first time, in part because Riteve workers follow  checklists that go far beyond brakes, headlights and other safety features.

A possible resolution to the strike might be the government agreeing to take over Riteve, although the compensation to the inspection firm would be significant. The company has built 16 inspection stations around the country, each with many mechanical and electronic testing devices.

As teachers and public employees join the strike today, the emphasis may change. The workers want more than the 4.5 percent pay hike decreed by the government when salary negotiations broke down. Adjusted to the devaluation of the colon, the pay hike now means a slight pay cut for the employees. Workers in the government monopolies fear competition fostered by the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

At the root of the trouble, of course, is Costa Rica’s budget. There is little money for roads. There is little money for pay hikes or school repair. The high costs of the Costa Rican social democracy are coming home to roost. In addition, the country has chosen not to exploit possible oil reserves in the Caribbean and gold reserves in northern Costa Rica.

Some suspect that the government deliberately neglected roads as a way of gaining public support for the proposed package of some $500 million in new taxes. That plan is in trouble in the Sala IV constitutional court and also in the legislature. 

The government says it needs the new money to pay off the national debt, but a host of new plans to spend the money are on the drawing boards.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What’s the best way to get around during the transportation blockade? Why motorcycles, of course.

Moto drivers who practice daily dodging cars in traffic jams should have no problem dodging parked trucks.

One individual who had to file papers at the Registo Nacional in Zapote Tuesday found that the only way to get there from San José downtown was by riding behind a friend on the friend’s motorcycle.

And there is a practical reason: Gasoline supplies are diminishing in San José, and motorcycles take a lot less fuel than automobiles that will be stuck in traffic for two hours.

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Miltary craft used for Radio and TV Marti relays
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The State Department says the United States has begun relaying its Radio and TV Marti broadcasts into Cuba with military aircraft. The operations were authorized by President George Bush in May as a way of overcoming Cuban jamming of the U.S.-funded stations. 

The State Department says the transmissions began Saturday and that Radio and TV Marti broadcasts were relayed into Cuba for several hours by specially-equipped U.S. Air National Guard transport planes operating outside of Cuban airspace. 

The unusual effort was authorized as part of a series of measures recommended by the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Radio Marti began in the mid-1980s and Cuba started heavily jamming both it and its counterpart TV Marti when the television station began operations in 1990. 

The jamming of TV Marti has been especially effective despite extensive efforts to overcome it. State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the aim of the new effort is to provide free information to Cubans and in the process, hasten 

the end of the Communist government of Fidel Castro. 

"Radio and TV Marti have transmitted their signals for over a decade and they are routinely jammed by the authorities in Cuba who fear the truth being known by their own people," he said. "Our view is that these broadcasts will give the Cuban people uncensored information about their country and will help serve to bring about a more rapid and peaceful transition to democracy." 

President Bush adopted several other recommendations of the commission, including limiting the remittances U.S. family members may send to relatives in Cuba and limiting the number of visits family members can make to Cuba, a step that drew broad criticism in the Cuban-American community. 

In another development, spokesman Ereli shrugged off Cuba's rejection of a U.S. offer of $50,000 in relief aid to help deal with damage from Hurricane Charley earlier this month. Cuba termed the U.S. gesture "humiliatingly meager" and "hypocritical." 

Ereli said the United States offered the aid, through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, in a spirit of humanitarian concern, and said he hoped the Cuban government would see it that way, and act to help its people. 

Trial opens in case of Salvadoran linked to archbishop's murder
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

FRESNO, Calif. — The civil trial of a retired Salvadoran military officer implicated in the March 1980 assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero has opened in Fresno, California. 

The four-day trial opened Tuesday in the case of Alvaro Rafael Saravia. He is accused of playing a key role in organizing the death of the archbishop, an outspoken critic of El Salvador's then-military regime and a leading human rights figure. 

Saravia is being tried in absentia. Officials say he has not responded to a lawsuit filed against him on behalf of the archbishop's relatives. They also say he has disappeared from the last address listed under his name in Modesto, Calif.

The suit was filed under federal statutes that allow Saravia to be tried in the United States, even if the events for which he is accused happened abroad. 

An assassin's bullet felled the archbishop on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in San Salvador. 

Brazil grabs some radioactive material destined for world market
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Brazilian police say a radioactive material, containing uranium and thorium, has been seized in Brazil's Amazon and that one person has been arrested in the case. 

Authorities announced the finding Tuesday, but say the material was confiscated in the Amapa state area last month. Officials also say they received a tip about the radioactive materials, which were 

estimated to be worth at least $330,000 on the black market. 

Investigators said the compound was packed and sealed in plastic, ready to be sold. Authorities say they are looking for the area from where the product had been mined. 

Brazil has the world's sixth-largest uranium reserves, but currently sends the material abroad to be enriched for use in its nuclear power plants. 

Jo Stuart
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