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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 178
Jo Stuart
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Legislature considers child protection law today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional will celebrate el Día del Niño today by holding the first of two sessions on a law to strengthen the penalties for kidnapping and killing children, young people and the handicapped.

Other activities today BELOW!

The Comisión Permanente Especial de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia has released the measure so the first full debate can take place today.

Mario Rodondo Poveda, president of the assembly, said that he is satisfied that lawmakers will approve the laws with the goal of protecting children.

The measure makes three changes in the law. First, the penalty for murdering a child 12 years or younger will be from 20 to 35 years in prison.

The simple kidnapping of a child, which has carried a penalty of from six months to two years will be increased to between five and 10 years in prison.

A category of aggravated kidnapping will be penalized with from 12 to 20 years in prison. Such a crime must have three elements: the 

abduction of the child lasts for more than threedays, two or more people take part and that the kidnapping is for profit.

Lawmakers have been criticized for light penalties for kidnapping, but the laws anticipated the abduction of a child by a parent and not the types of kidnappings that have taken place lately.

Public attention focussed on kidnapping when  Jessica Valverde Pineda, 4, vanished near her home in Los Guidos de Desamparados in  February 2002.

Then June 4, 2002, Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, 3, of San Miguel de Higuito in Desamparados was abducted by what the courts found to be a local neighborhood guard with the complicity of a taxi driver. The child died while in the hands of others, and those people never have been identified. The child was the son of an agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Then last July 4 Katia Vanesa González Juárez, 8, vanished in her Barrio Quesada Duran in southeast San José. She was found a week later buried under the floor of  a neighbor’s house. He is being held.

With sufficient legislative support, the measure could be passed totally on the first reading today.

Pacheco stresses social spending with new cash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco says he wants a new tax system so the country can afford more social spending.

In a speech Monday, Pacheco urged lawmakers to pass a permanent fiscal package that would generate more money for the government. But there was more of an emphasis on government social spending than on eliminating the massive mounting public debt.

In the past the emphasis has been on the national debt and the budgetary shortfall that forces the country to borrow to meet about 50 percent of its obligations.

"Thanks to a coherent and consistent policy, this year the national economy will grow more than 5 percent when in Latin America it is going to grow only an average of 1.5 percent" said Pacheco.

This growth in the economy is important to combat poverty because growth means more jobs, more production, more goods in the local market and more exports, said the president.

However, this increase is not an end in itself, he said. Instead the growth of the economy ought to be viewed in a framework of social justice, said Pacheco.

To do that, the country needs a tax reform that causes the rich, the principal beneficiaries of the growth to pay taxes in relation to the benefits, he said.

In that way the government will receive more 

income to put into housing, social security, education and health, said the president.

Pacheco called in the Asamblea National to vote on the fiscal reforms that will permit the country to pay off the national debt as well as strengthen the social programs.  Pacheco said that 900,000 Costa Ricans live in poverty. That’s nearly 25 percent.

Pacheco was in a poor district of San José, Barrio Cristo Rey, at the Escuela República de Nicaragua, where he handed out some 400 vouchers that will subsidize families so their children can go to school. The program is one operated by the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social.

However, Pacheco also was marking 16 months in office, and said that the concrete fruits of his administration were beginning to show.

Among other achievements, Pacheco said that now 90 percent of the population was covered by a system of clinics. On another front, he noted an increase in tourist flights to the country and a 10 percent increase in North American and European tourism.

The Pacheco administration has been marked by a scarcity of funds for promised programs. Alberto Dent, minister of Hacienda, the fiscal ministry, is trying to shepherd a package of tax reforms through the assembly now.

Key to the program is a value-added tax to replace the existing 13-per-cent sales tax. The value-added tax will generate much more money for the government and, at the same time, take more money from private hands.

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We've got a little list of society offenders who really should be . . .
By the alleged humor staff

The people who can raise your children better than you can are at it again. This time the Defensoría de los Habitantes and some legislators want to ban corporal punishment (i.e. spanking) in all of Costa Rica.

The superprogressives have a point when parents are so forceful that their kids have to be hospitalized. But even the parent police would agree that there are some ADULTS who need to be spanked.

Here is our list:

1. Whoever started that sobig.worm/virus that has been bombarding e-mail inboxes since late August. (We hope this guy/gal lives in Singapore where they use big canes.)

2. Motorcycle drivers. Not the recreational kind and their Harleys but the daily, zip in and out of traffic messenger, noisy kind who are asking for much more than a spanking.

3. The folks who put up that big, bright television/billboard high above Avenida 2 in the downtown to distract motorists exactly when they

should not be distracted. Plus their advertisers.

4. The television producers who get 10-year-olds to wiggle with the professional dancers on "A Todo Dar," the afternoon teen show otherwise known as "A Todo Ombligo" (The whole bellybutton).

5. Government officials in charge of potholes.

6. Anyone who says he holds daily, two-way conversations with the Virgin Mary.

7. The curious tourists who want to walk right up to the rubble field of Arenal Volcano. 

8. Those kind-hearted persons who liberate their dog or cat onto the public street.

9. Restaurant operators with one menu for Costa Ricans and another, higher menu for foreigners.

10. Bus passengers who won’t surrender their seat under any circumstances to anyone, pregnant or not.

In the interest of brevity we have omitted any number of public officials and fugitive financiers, but you know who else deserves a spanking!
What’s your list?

Hurricane Isabel
gathering strength

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

With winds of 185 kph (115 mph), Hurricane Isabel has strengthened into the second major hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season. 

Hurricane Isabel is still far out at sea, about 2,000 kms. (1,240 miles) east of the Leeward Islands, but forecasters say the storm is strengthening, and could pose a serious threat to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba by the end of this week.

The storm is moving over very warm water and has a well-defined core and strong outflow. Forecasters say storms like Isabel can quickly become dangerous, with winds in excess of 240 kph (nearly 150 mph).

Forecasters also say Hurricane Isabel seems to be following the path of Hurricane Fabian that pounded the island chain of Bermuda several days ago, leaving at least four dead.

Thousands of homes in Bermuda remain without power and local authorities say Fabian caused millions of dollars worth of damage especially to Bermuda's famous golf courses.

September is usually the most active month in the six month Atlantic and Caribbean Hurricane season that ends on Nov. 30.

New U.S. $20 bill hits
the streets Oct. 9

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States is preparing to issue a redesigned $20 bill, the first U.S. note in nearly a century to feature colors other than green and black. The goal is to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters. 

For the second time in as many decades, the United States is redesigning its paper currency. The first denomination to undergo the makeover will be the $20 bill. 

"I think the most noticeable change will be the addition of subtle background colors: peach, green, and blue," says Dawn Haley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "We still have the watermark, we still have a security thread. We have enhanced the color-shifting ink." 

The new $20 bills will begin to go into circulation Oct. 9. Similarly, revamped $50 notes are slated for release next year, to be followed by $100 notes in 2005. Banks and other businesses have been briefed on the changes so as to avoid confusion when the bills reach the public. 

Ms. Haley says counterfeiters are making use of ever-more advanced technology to produce fake bills, forcing the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to redesign paper currency sooner than had been anticipated just a few years ago. 

"Counterfeiting is increasingly turning to digital methods here in the United States. And that is what we are trying to stay ahead of, the technology that is out there," says Ms. Haley. "The $100 note is more counterfeited overseas. The $20 note is more counterfeited in the United States." 

What will the public think of multi-colored U.S. bills? Ms. Haley says initial reaction has been positive. "Throughout our focus groups, the general consensus is that people like the look of this new note," she says. "One of my favorite features of the new note is the enhanced portrait of President Andrew Jackson, the portrait almost jumps off the paper at you. I think it is pretty cool." 

Ms. Haley says the new notes will be the same size and have the same "feel" as bills currently in circulation. 

A.M. Costa Rica did an earlier story about the currency change with more photos that can be viewed HERE.

Dalai Lama ready
for D.C. agenda

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is visiting. He was received Monday by the Capital Area Tibetan community and other Tibetan supporters. The Dalai Lama he will be in the capitial for three days. 

During his Washington visit, the Dalai Lama is expected to meet President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other administration officials. 

This will be the Dalai Lama's first opportunity to meet with U.S. leaders following the reestablishment of contact between his envoys and Chinese officials, after an impasse of nearly a decade. 

The Dalai Lama also meets leaders of the Senate and House committees on foreign relations and gives a keynote address at a 20th anniversary event of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. 

At the invitation of the Washington National Cathedral, the Dalai Lama attends an interfaith ceremony on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Earlier, the Dalai Lama visited San Francisco, where he received an honorary degree from the University of San Francisco. He also dedicated a house of worship for inter-religious harmony and world peace in the mid-Western city of Bloomington, Indiana. 

Before returning to India on Sept. 24, the Dalai Lama also visits Boston and New York.


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Police going to the children's hospital for the day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública will be at the Hospital Nacional de Niños today, el Día del Niño.

Among other events officials will graduate the first class of special children instructors who duties will be to go from school to school to promote preventative programs of child safety, in part by the use of coloring books that contain such messages. Some 24 persons are in the first class, and they will be graduated at 10 a.m. at the hospital. It is called the Programa Pinta Seguro.

Participating will be Rogelio Ramos Martínez, minister of Seguridad Pública, Dr. Rodolfo Hernández Gómez, director Hospital Nacional de 

Niños, and Comisario Walter Navarro, director general of the Fuerza Pública.

But the real stars might not be the officials. The Fuerza Pública is bringing the K-9 unit to the hospital for a noon demonstration. 

At other times Navarro and others will be engaging the youngsters at the hospital in chats about security and drug abuse.

The police program is just one of many scheduled for today, which is an important day in Costa Rica, although not an official holiday. The Museo Nacional will have a program, and national lawmakers will be meeting with high school-aged youngsters during the morning.

Court bans use of kids names, Casa Alianza says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza says it has prevailed on the Corte Suprema de Justicia de Costa Rica to order lower-court judges to delete the names of underage victims in criminal sentences.

The child welfare organization said that this is to protect the identify of the victims.

Casa Alianza, in a release, said the organization has become worried that the complete names of boys, girls and adolescents who are victims of crimes continue to appear in the court sentences that are accessible via the Internet.

This places the security and tranquility of the victims of crimes against children at risk contrary to the established international norms, especially the Convention of the Rights of Children, the organization said.

The high court in a session July 28 reminded all the workers of the Poder Judicial to omit names of youngsters, as per an edict that was issued in May 2002 but has not been respected, said Casa Alianza. Otherwise disciplinary action will follow, Casa Alianza said the court warned.

Casa Alianza said that in December the court would have a computer program that will automatically filter the identities of minor persons in the sentences that are placed on the Internet.

In mid-April Casa Alianza filed a complaint against Televisíon Nacional de Chile for having aired the name and photos of a 9-year-old child who became pregnant in Costa Rica. The girl became big news when her parents took her from Costa Rica to Nicaragua where an abortion was performed. 

The Consejo Nacional de Televisión de Chile eventually upheld the complaint even though the 

girls’ parents had participated willingly in the television program.

Presumably the concern about privacy only extends to living victims of crimes. Casa Alianza has the names of dead child victims on its own promotional Web site. 

Also uncertain is at what age the courts will consider an individual to be a minor. The usual cutoff is the 18th birthday, but some United Nations agencies considers someone a minor through the 18th year.

The general judicial concept of the accused being confronted by the accuser would seem to mean that those charged with crimes would have access to the identity of victims, including their addresses and locations. This is basic information for defense work.

Some U.S. states and other countries try to restrict the identification of victims of sex crimes, regardless of age. Consequently, scams have been reported where individuals, mostly women, have falsely accused persons repeatedly of rape in order to collect money. In other cases, persons have used secrecy to run scams in which they claim to be seriously hurt in motor vehicle accidents or similar events.

Casa Alianza’s concerns are similar to the concerns of many other organizations when previously available court and personal information, freely available in the past, becomes much easier to obtain via new technologies.

There is not a lot of evidence that publicity of children’s names amplifies their embarrassment because persons close to the case almost always know what is going on and the names of specific victims are almost always available to highly motivated researchers.

Noreiga praises Bush's record in Latin America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush believes that no region is more important to the future of the United States than the Americas, and his administration will continue to work with hemispheric partners to nurture democracy and promote prosperity in the region, says Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega.

In remarks Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, Noriega outlined the Bush administration's record in the Americas and shared its vision for the future.

Noriega cited the U.S. conclusion of a free-trade agreement with Chile, current trade negotiations with Central American nations, U.S. support for an International Monetary Fund package for Brazil, and engagement in efforts to resolve crises in Venezuela and Haiti as examples of the Bush administration's "impressive record of achievement" in the hemisphere.

The State Department official noted that the administration's goal for the region is to "help our friends and neighbors consolidate the historic political and economic progress they have made and, together, build a community of democracies committed to freedom and opportunity for all the people of the Americas."

Noriega warned that despite the great strides that the region has made in recent years, persistent political, economic and social problems endure. He identified the root cause of most of these problems as political and institutional in nature, rather than economic.

"Over the last two decades the people of the Americas have made enormous progress, but these

achievements have not erased the legacy of decades of poverty, corruption, and selfish or wrongheaded political leaders," Noriega explained. He said that U.S. leadership will be crucial in helping regional leaders overcome these obstacles to growth and in helping make democracy serve every citizen well.

"We must continue to nurture democracy and build republican institutions of government in the hemisphere," Noriega said. "We must adhere to rational economic policies and encourage our neighbors as they make the difficult transitions that are necessary to compete in the global economy and reach their true potential."

In pursuit of these goals, Noriega said, the United States will continue to advocate policies that have a proven record of success -- such as free-market reform, respect for the rule of law, the right to property, and sound macroeconomic principles.

He indicated that the United States will also encourage countries to invest in their people so that they have the necessary education and health care to prosper.

Noriega said that trade represents the best opportunity for the countries of the hemisphere to attract the capital they need to create jobs and sustain economic growth. That growth, he pointed out, will support public investments in education and infrastructure. He said the United States remains committed to the creation of a comprehensive Free Trade Area of the Americas by the target date of Jan. 1, 2005.

In his remarks, the assistant secretary addressed the individual political or economic landscape of several countries, as well as U.S. policy toward many of the nations in the hemisphere.

Zoellick and Veneman to head Cancun delegation
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman will lead the U.S. delegation to the 5th World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

The four-day meeting, which starts Wednesday is seen as an important stepping stone to a final global trade liberalization accord that countries will negotiate over the next 15 months.

"We are at the midpoint in the Doha negotiations, and so our goal in Cancun is to provide the appropriate frameworks for us to negotiate real and ambitious trade reform," Zoellick said in a press release.

"We will keep our objectives in the forefront at all times and not accept a framework just for the sake of having a framework," Veneman added. 

"We will move toward greater fairness in agricultural trade. And we will strive to bring developing countries more fully into the global trading community."

Over 40 senators and members of Congress from various committees such as House Ways and Means; Senate Finance; House and Senate Agriculture; House and Senate Judiciary, and staff members will be attending. In addition, 75 business, labor, environmental and consumer trade advisers, and 237 U.S.-based non-governmental organizations are accredited for a total of over 700 private sector representatives, said Zoellick’s office.

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