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These stories were published Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 178
Jo Stuart
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Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
This is Boston's present. Could it be the future here?

Plans are advancing for valleywide rail system
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Without much fanfare, transportation officials are planning a network of electrical railways that would run from Cartago on the east to Alajuela in the west.

This would be a metro system that would have its first leg — Heredia to San José — in operation in three years.

The initial cost would be well over $100 million and the final cost would approach $500 million.

The goal is to provide quick, safe transportation without the negative environmental problems of buses and motor vehicles.

The initial stage would move 52,000 persons a day, according to Juan Ramon Rivera, president of the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, known as INCOFER. 

Already the project is generating opposition from groups that do not like the idea that the government will be giving a 20-year concession to a large company to build and run the rail line.

A week ago transportation officials opened up bidding on a feasibility study for the line. A  pre-feasibility study had been conducted by the French firm of SYSTRA, a world leader in rail technology. The firm that wins the bid will have nearly two years to plan and present technical and financial specifications, then build the first stage.

Nine firms expressed interest in bidding.

The Costa Rican government hopes to pay the bulk of the cost, but perhaps a third will be paid for by foreign grants. The government of France has donated money for the initial studies. The project will run until at least 2020, according to current plans.

Capital projects in Costa Rica generally take longer than the time that is allocated for them, so the first quiet, air conditioned car may not hit the rails for some time, if at all. However, officials seek a better way of moving people, particularly in light of high fuel prices.

Certainly in the plans is the existing underused rail line that runs from Caldera near Puntarenas to San José. The new route will run from Heredia to the Atlantic railway station at Avenida 3 and Calle 23 northeast of the downtown.

The current rail line accommodates several freight trains a day taking mostly rolls of steel for a Tibás factory. The only passenger service is a tourist train that runs on weekends to the Pacific. Most rail service was terminated in the mid-1990s, and parts of the rail line to the Caribbean has deteriorated.

The initial criticism of the project stems from concern that the rail operation will be a form of monopoly. However, officials at the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes have conducted extensive legal studies and obtained agreement that concessions can provide the infrastructure that the country needs but cannot afford.

The eventual design probably will not be for a high-speed line. The French railway system had one of its high-speed trains clocked at 515.3 kms. per hour (320.2 mph) in 1990. A slower operation would be more likely in Costa Rica.

SYSTRA now has a contract to enlarge the rail system in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Critics say that the Pacheco administration, which originated this new rail emphasis in 2002, is trying to lock in the project before the 2006 elections.

The politics of new rail lines can be complex. Lots of money is spent on right-of-ways, new stations and parking lots for commuters.


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No probe of Calderón,
Assembly decides

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional Tuesday failed by one vote to approve an investigation of former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier.

Deputies had been asked to set up a committee to investigate the circumstances in which the former president received payment as part of a commission on a $39 million deal involving the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Channel 7 Teletica aired news reports over the weekend that said Calderón received the money from a Panamá corporation operated by one of the principals in Corporación Fischel.

The ex-president denies he did anything illegal, but judicial authorities are investigating.

The vote in the legislature failed, 37-11, one short of the two-thirds of all members needed to set up an inquiry.

Meanwhile, a judge ordered the former  president of the Caja, Eliseo Vargas García, to be jailed on preventative detention. Vargas was the first person to be named in the Caja scandal. He was accused in April of renting a luxurious home in Santa Ana from an official of Corporación Fischel, a company that does millions of dollars in business with the Caja.

Later the scandal enveloped the head of Fischel and others before tarnishing the ex-president.

Immigration law gets
many new revisions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A committee studying a proposed new immigration law approved 57 of 147 amendments Tuesday, but it is hard to learn what the changes involved.

This is the measure that, among other things, might change the rules for foreigners who want to set up residency in Costa Rica.

Humberto Arce of the Bloque Patriótico Parlamentario complained that the majority of the motions were not read and voted on without any discussion. The bulk of the approved changes were proposed by the Executive Branch.

However, Arce said that the Executive Branch had proposed the law in the first place and probably should not make so many changes.

Carmen Gamboa, president of the committee, said that the proposed law came with errors and that employees of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería have worked hard to introduce many changes at the last minute.

The committee is the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración.

The two points that worry foreigners the most are the financial requirements for the various forms of residencies here and the possibility that the category of rentista will be eliminated.

Guard thwarts stickup
at Banco Popular branch

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A guard suffered a bullet wound Tuesday afternoon when armed men tried to stick up a branch office of Banco Popular in Alto de Guadelupe about 2 p.m.

The guard suffered a bullet wound to the foot after he engaged in a shootout with the four armed men. One of the would-be robbers also suffered a wound, agents said.

The four fled in a car that was found abandoned later. They did not get any money.

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Motorist gunned down when he stops car at light
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gunman murdered an Heredia businessman when he stopped his car at a traffic light in San José Monday night about 9:30.

The assailants’ car pulled up alongside the vehicle occupied by José Francisco Pérez Quintero, 59, and a gunman inside shot him twice in the head.  He died at the scene, which was some 100 meters south of the Museo de Niños in north San José.

Investigators said they do not think that robbery 

was a motive because Pérez was carrying more than $3,500 in cash. That money still was in the car when police arrived. 

Pérez, a Cuban, had lived in the country for seven years. He lived in Santo Domingo de Heredia where he operated a vehicle parts business.

Investigators said that the killers may have been trying to steal the car, but that the vehicle rolled into a wall after its driver was shot. They also said that Pérez was not known to police before the killing.

Panama's newspeople seek relief on defamation 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PANAMA CITY, Panamá — As the country’s new president, Martin Torrijos, takes office, journalists are calling on the country's new government to approve constitutional reforms that would decriminalize defamation.

Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the World Press Freedom Committee have called for the repeal of Article 33.1 from Panama's Constitution. Article 33.1 contains several provisions that allow public officials to order fines or arrests, without trial, against "whoever offends or disrespects them while they are carrying out the duties of their office or as a result of carrying out those duties."

Panama's legislative assembly, composed of newly elected members, is scheduled to vote soon on whether Article 33.1 should be repealed. The previous assembly had passed a bill July 27 eliminating Article 33.1 from the Constitution. 

However, for the reform to take legal effect, the new assembly must also approve the bill.

Even if the article were repealed, there would still be other provisions under which journalists could be jailed for offending a public official, says Reporters Without Borders. The penal code provides for up to two years in prison for "defamation, insults or tarnishing the honour of a person or a state institution." The group  says these provisions should also be abolished.

Costa Rica has similar defamation provisions, but a proposed law being studied by the Asemblea Nacional would eliminate some of the criminal aspects.

Meanwhile, more than 80 journalists who were facing charges for defamation have been pardoned in Panamá. Outgoing president Mireya Moscoso announced the move after consultations with the Panama journalists' union, Sindicato de Periodistas de Panama.

Mexican columnist abducted, beaten, murdered
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MATAMOROS, México — A Mexican newspaper columnist Francisco Arratia Saldierna, was beaten to death by unidentified assailants in the northern border city of Matamoros last week.

A number of journalists groups are calling for an immediate investigation into Arratia's murder. Mexican news reports said a group of individuals went to Arratia's car dealership Aug. 31 and had an argument with him. Shortly after, Arratia was heading home when he was abducted by the group. He was brutally tortured. His body was dumped outside the offices of the Red Cross and he died several hours later in hospital.

Arratia, 55, wrote a column called "Portavoz" (Spokesman) for four newspapers in the state of Tamaulipas. He wrote often about organized crime, political corruption and education. He was also a schoolteacher and operated a used car business.

More than 200 journalists from across Mexico have written a letter to President Vicente Fox calling for the federal government to ensure the safety of journalists working along the country's borders. They say federal authorities should have jurisdiction in crimes against journalists.

Murder in Venezuela

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MATURÍN, Venezuela — Unidentified men shot and killed radio show host Mauro Del Valle Ramos in this city in eastern Venezuela last Wednesday, reports the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad.

Del Valle, 55, was the host of an opinion show on Radio 1080 AM, a local station. Unofficial sources say he had implicated several local businessmen in reports on drug trafficking. Del Valle was also a councilor for the Acción Democrática party.

Judge makes veiled threat over news report
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANUAGA, Nicaragua — Judge Carlos Mario Peña of the Managua Fifth District Criminal Court issued a veiled threat against journalist Mirna Velásquez, according to information provided by the journalist and published in the newspaper where she works, La Prensa. 

After a press conference in mid-August the judge approached Ms. Velásquez and tried to intimidate her by recounting detailed information about her private life, how she spent her free time and the places she frequented. He warned Velásquez "to be careful," saying she would continue to be followed, the journalist recounted.

On Aug. 13 Ms. Velásquez reported that the Judges' Association was drafting a letter to the Supreme 

Court outlining concerns its members had about Peña's conduct. Peña was angered by the report and complained to the Supreme Court's Disciplinary Committee, alleging that Judges Ángela Dávila and Adela Cardoza had given Ms. Velásquez a copy.

The judges' letter was released officially Aug. 20. According to Ms. Velásquez, Peña's attempt to intimidate her is linked to her report about the letter. 

In a letter to Supreme Court Chair Yadina Centeno, a journalists group said the judge's actions were an attack on the right to disseminate information about public officials' misconduct. The organization added that according to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, "public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society."

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Why expats have opinions that are more valuable
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Politics seemed to me to be boring. When I was a young reporter in 1964 the action was in the streets: fires, crashes, stabbing, burglaries.

Eventually some editor decided to put me in a position where I covered a New York township in which Republicans would not talk to their newly elected Democratic mayor. That was fun. The councilmen actually turned their chairs around in town meetings to avoid looking at the man.

Our special responsibility

Although I still yearned for train wrecks and forest fires, I ended up reporting on the activities of the New York State legislature, the state’s governor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, and its upstart senator, Robert Kennedy.

These were the heady days of Lyndon Johnson and big government, which was going to solve all our social ills.

Before long, I learned that politics was another word for power. I also came to learn that the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution is there mainly to allow citizens to discuss politics, policies and their election choices.

The days of the giant rallies are over as the television becomes the political arena. I still remember seeing Harry Truman and going to sleep while he delivered a fiery speech over loudspeakers in the nearby high school. That was 1948. Truman was far behind but a fighter. He felt he had a mission in life and that politics was the way to fulfill it.

Thousands turned out to see him. The pundits would have had a better grip on that election if they just mingled with the crowds.

How different would our world be if Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, both Bushs and even Nixon had not been elected. Although lesser races might have more personal impact, the U.S. presidential race defines the era. Not just for U.S. citizens but for the whole world.

Of all the presidential races I have witnessed since 1948, the current one appears to be extraordinarily important. The reasons are obvious.

Yet some of our readers do not want to hear opinions. It could be that they have their minds made up or that they are not voting U.S. citizens. Some say they are not interested in the outcome of the U.S. race, and that is why they moved to Costa Rica.

Well, they could move to Mars and still be affected by what happens in the United States in November.

There is a certain responsibility of citizenship: to study the issues, to make an informed vote and to accept the legal outcome.

To shove one’s head in the sand is to divorce oneself from society. This is easy to do today with Internet access, work from home, CDs and DVDs. One can insulate oneself from the real world. They call themselves happy. I call them misguided.

We saw in 2000 that every vote counts. The complexities of international politics are difficult to follow. But those of us living in foreign lands have a special responsibility.

We are the canaries in the coal mine. We give advanced warning when things go amiss. We tug at the sleeve of our governments and tell them that strange things are happening.

Consequently, the opinions of expats have greater value than that of the average homebound citizen simply because they have a better perspective.

Our readers' opinions
There are two votes to end the political discussion
He left U.S. due to politics

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Yes, enough is enough! As a U.S. Citizen, even I don't want to read any more letters on the subject of our upcoming election! I left there because of the politics, and don't need to read of it on a supposedly 'Costa Rican' online newspaper, day after day. 

John MacDonald
Seeking  a vote

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In agreement . . . let's take a vote? 

I, too, totally agree with Dorothy Davidson, in saying there is too much emphasis on the U.S. elections on your site. It's not even that most of the letters are from people presently residing here, but from residents in the States. Let them 'let off steam' on the American websites. 

Pat Nethercote



Election will clarify
where people stand

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I can't wait for the election, getting tired of the anti-American noise from the Left. Win or lose, we will find out where everyone stands. If Bush wins, we continue with World War 4. If Kerry wins, we get to find out where he actually stands on the issues. At least for a day at a time. Either way, the clarity and resolution will be refreshing. After a single Kerry term, the Democrats would be rejected by the American voters for all time, I suspect.

It's not so much that the Left is in league with terrorists — although many in fact are — or that the Left has "forgotten." It's more that the Left simply does not take terrorism seriously. Meanwhile Kerry can only whine about his Purple Heart boo-boos. "Stop picking on me! I'm a hero! A hero!"

Clearly the way to defeat terrorism globally is to increase the presence of democracy and market-based economies around the world. People who prosper and are in control of their political and economic destinies tend not to tolerate terrorism.

Perhaps Putin will wake up now and realize that a nuclear Iran is a bad thing for the world, including Russia. His best action now would be to offer to send at least two divisions to Iraq to help stabilize that pre-natal democracy and provide a bulwark agains the ayatollahs of Iran.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all of this, Kerry is ever more obsessed with Vietnam. How pathetic. The Democratic party needs to completely self-destruct now and reform itself, actually aligning with the views of most of America —  in support of freedom, both political and economic, domestically and globally. 

James Post
Miami, Fla.

Jo Stuart
About us
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