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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 172
Jo Stuart
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Vacationer recounts bad experiences on the highways
By Kimba Reich
A visitor to Costa Rica

I  just wanted to let you know about my recent experience in Costa Rica.  I was in your country on vacation with my family, and I got caught in traffic due to the strike. We were traveling home from the beach to my parents home (a trip that should have taken three hours), and we were on the road for 18 hours.  I was so disappointed in the lack of action taken by the government and police force in this emergency. 

In fact, it didn't even seem to be an "emergency" with the way natives were reacting.  The only people who seemed to be angry and agitated by the situation were the tourists.  As I sat in my rental car for hours, I went through every single radio station, both AM and FM to hear news about what was happening, and nothing was being broadcast.  It's unbelievable that a country cannot update the public about a serious situation like that.  They're living in the dark. 

We begged the truckers to let us pass because one of my relatives was very sick and needed her medication, but they refused. 

We risked our lives trying to drive home through a back road filled with potholes.

We nearly drove off a cliff because of the dangerous driving conditions.  This experience has left a very bad/negative impression of the country with me. 

When I had left Costa Rica, every tourist I met at the airport said they would never return to this country again, and I personally feel the same way.  It will take me a considerable amount of time to forgive the county for the hell they put me and my family through. 

I hope the president of Costa Rica realizes the impact his inability to lead the country has left on peoples lives.  On Aug. 23, I almost lost my life in a small country who had no control over its people and whose people had no respect for laws and human suffering.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Free enterprise
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An ice cream vendor takes advantage of an anti-government march in downtown San José Monday to sell his product. He was among a number of small businessmen who profited by the demonstration.

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Fuel in water leads
to AyA pulling plug

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents in the eastern half of the Central Valley found out Monday morning that their water had been turned off.

Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, turned off the supply without giving notice to municipal officials, the news media or residents.

The water company said it was reacting to the possible contamination of the water by the release of some fuel at the El Llano dam. The fuel was released when a small boat tied up by workmen at the dam overturned when the water level changed.

The fuel release happened Thursday, but water company monitors detected the fuel in the water Sunday at its Cartago plant and another plant at Tres Ríos de La Unión, which services parts of San José.

Curridabat, Desamparados and parts of eastern San José were without water due to the cutoff, as were nearly 100,000 persons in Cartago Province.

The water company said that by shutting down service it would clean its tanks and lines.

There was no word when the water would be turned on again.

U.S., Canadian visitors
among those rejected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials say they kept 89 U.S. citizens and 10 Canadians from entering the country during the first eight months of the year. The North Americans were included in the total of nearly 30,000 person who were refused entry at the two land border entry points, Peñas Blancas and Los Chiles said officials.

The immigration officials said they reject persons whose paperwork is not in order, who are undesirable or who pose a health risk or who have been deported in the past.

The bulk of the North Americans are believed to have tried to enter the country without a passport, which is now required.

Some 29,461 Nicaraguans also were rejected, officials said.

During the same period, immigration officials have deported 716 persons, more than half being Nicaraguans. Deportations can take place when a foreigner overstays a visa or term of residence. The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería did not report that any U.S. citizens or Canadians were deported.

U.S. Embassy promises
updated information

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. Embassy officials say they are going to be providing more timely information to residents and tourists here.

The U.S. Embassy Web site will be posting information provided by the government of Costa Rica on public gatherings, road problems or other information that might affect U.S. citizens living in or visiting Costa Rica, the embassy announced.

A check of the Web site shows that officials advised U.S. citizens to stay informed about roadblocks put up by truckers and to avoid areas in which demonstrations are being held.

Murder suspect caught

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers captured a Nicaraguan man wanted to face a murder charge in his own country. The arrest took place Monday night in the center of San José.

The man, identified by the last names of Arguello Rivera, had been living illegally in Costa Rica for several months, police said. He was identified by tattoos  on his body.

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A.M. Costa Rica
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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Protest marchers Monday headed for the Fuente de Hispanidad in front of Mall San Pedro and then marched to Casa Presidencial. That was where Gladys Quiros Badilla of Paraiso de Cartago banged her pot. She said she was representing all the women of the nation.

Students join strike as transportion accord nears
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Monday was a day of protest for high school students. It wasn’t so much that the students were unhappy, but their teachers encouraged the students to join a so-called national strike to boost the numbers.

The quantity of real strikers continued to be low, but truckers maintained blockades of the nation’s roadways.

Students blockaded, too. One group of students on the way to San José chose to walk in the middle of the Autopista General Cañas, thereby reducing vehicle traffic to a walking speed.

Among the supporters of the strike is the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza made up of high school teachers.

The government entered negotiations with the truckers and taxi drivers at mid-afternoon, and the discussions were likely to end in some form of preliminary accord because public pressure is heavy on both the transportation leaders and the government.

The accord, when it comes, was more or less outlined by President Abel Pacheco last week. He said the inspection system involving Riteve could be changed as long as regulations for key safety items such as brakes and lights were not diluted.

Truckers also want an end to the Riteve monopoly, as do striking operators of mechanics shops. The government is likely to give some ground on this point.

Businessmen, shippers, agricultural producers and tourism operators all have been hit hard by the strike.

However, an accord with the truckers, taxi drivers  and the transportation sector will not solve problems with public employee union members who want more money or those unhappy with the free trade treaty with the United States.

Monday was not the first time adults encouraged students to join the strike, but it was the first time students came in such numbers. One teacher brought her elementary school students Thursday, an event that prompted security officials to photograph the students and distribute pictures to the news media.

By mid-evening, the Fuerza Pública listed blockades at Aguas Zarcas, San Ramón and Cariari de Pococí at the Río Tortuguero bridge. But news reporters maintained a list of nearly 20 sites.

Among the sites of perpetual blockades was at the University de Costa Rica near the law school building and at University Nacional in Heredia.

Because students are more involved, the tone of the strike has changed from protesting Riteve S y C, the vehicle inspection company, to focus more on the war in Iraq and the proposed free trade treaty. 

Some lucky employees of the Municipalidad de San José hitched a ride all the way.
Young Communists
Iraqi flag

Monday, an Iraqi flag flew as did flags of the Partido Revolutionario de Trajabadores, the closest organization Costa Rica has to the Communist party.

Albino Vargas, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, is the main spokesman for salary grievances. But despite efforts to rally strikers, public services remained largely unaffected.

A major water outage in the eastern part of the Central Valley Monday was not believed to be strike related.

President Pacheco went to a medical clinic Monday afternoon, but Casa Presidencial was quick to point out that the appointment involved an eye examination and had been scheduled for several weeks. The examination involved placing drops to dilate Pacheco’s eyes. This reduces his vision even further, so he was not in his office the rest of the afternoon.

Despite the strike, these men were working selling flags, juice and snacks

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U.S. Justice official opposes hate speech censorship
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands — The United States believes access to the Internet should be encouraged as a means of disseminating knowledge and that governmental regulation should be minimal, according to Matthew Berry, a U.S. Department of Justice official.

Berry told a conference here Friday that freedom of speech, expression and the press should be respected.

"Rather than restricting racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic speech and driving such views into the shadows . . . such expression instead must be confronted in the light of day and answered with more speech," he said.

Berry said hate speech is extraordinarily difficult to define, and therefore laws restricting such expression can be abused. It is better to allow bigotry and prejudice to be expressed openly so that such views can be confronted and challenged, he said.

He characterized as "seriously misguided" those governments that are attempting to deny their citizens access to the Internet or to restrict access to particular Web sites. 

Governments should choose a different path by trying to foster Internet access and by implementing policies to ensure that "the Internet is an open and public forum for the airing of all viewpoints," he said.

"Protecting free expression and combating bigotry and prejudice are not mutually conflicting goals," he said. "Instead of focusing on ways to censor hate speech, we must concentrate on answering such expression with more speech, for the battle against intolerance cannot be won through government regulation or legislative action. Rather, it is a fight that will be won or lost in the marketplace of ideas."

The two-day conference is the second sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Internet media freedom. Berry is senior counsel in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice.

OAS kicks off effort against landmines in Suirnam
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  A mission of the Organization of American States initiated mine-removal activities in Suriname Monday as part of a U.S.-backed effort to clear mines in Central and South America.

The OAS said in a statement that anti-personnel landmines and unexploded ordnances are buried primarily in the interior of Suriname. The anti-personnel landmines are remnants of an internal conflict in Suriname during the 1980s, the OAS said.

In 1997, Suriname signed what is known as the Ottawa Treaty, a pact that outlines prohibitions on the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

The OAS says that although the mines in Suriname are few in number, they still pose a risk to the local inhabitants.

Besides Suriname, the OAS Mine Action Program and the Inter-American Defense Board have 
worked to destroy about 1 million stockpiled mines in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru since 2002. The defense board is an international committee of nationally appointed defense officials who provide technical advice and services to the OAS.

In Ecuador and Peru specifically, tens of thousands of landmines are located along the shared border as a result of the two countries' longstanding territorial dispute.

Those countries, which resolved their border dispute in 1998, both have destroyed their landmine stockpiles and have begun the task of clearing the mines that remain in the ground, the OAS said. In Peru, the OAS Mine Action Program assisted police specialists in destroying more than 20,000 anti-personnel mines located around 415 electric towers. 

Cuba pulls yet another envoy as protest over pardons of plotters
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The government continues to downgrade its relations with Panama, saying it will withdraw its charge d'affaires from the Cuban embassy in Panama City. 

The Cuban foreign ministry announced Monday that envoy Carlos Valdes de la Concepción will return to Havana Tuesday for an indefinite period. The recall is part of the island nation's protest against Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, who pardoned four Cubans convicted in a November 

2000 assassination plot against Cuban President Fidel Castro.  Cuba officially broke diplomatic ties with Panama last Thursday, just after the pardons were announced. 

The men, Luis Posada Carriles, Gaspar Jimenez, Guillermo Novo, and Pedro Remon, had been sentenced to up to eight years in prison for their roles in the plot. Ms. Moscoso said she took the action before she leaves office this Wednesday because she believed the men would be killed if extradited to Cuba or to Venezuela, where they also face charges. 

Jo Stuart
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