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(506) 223-1327               Published Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 180            E-mail us   
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U.S. says passport processing now back to normal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a summer in which travelers faced long delays to obtain U.S. passports, the issuing agency said that the backlog had been cleared.

The U.S. State Department said that it has restored passport service to six to eight week processing time for routine passport applications, and no more than three weeks for expedited service.

Travelers had been waiting for up to four months to get their passports, and the delays had a major effect on tourism and the patience of travelers. The government had waived the passport requirement in some cases where travelers could show they had applied for the document.

The State Department said it has issued 16 million passports in this fiscal year ending Sept. 30. That is about 4 million more than in the previous year.
The rush was caused in part because of new U.S. rules that require passports for anyone arriving in the United States by air, including those coming from México, Canada and the Caribbean. The rules were generated by a concern for terrorists after the attacks in the United States six years ago today.

The State Department said it plans to expand passport operations and hire more processors to meet the rising demand as passport regulations are expanded to include those arriving by land and sea.

The Homeland Security Department wants to widen the regulations to require passports even for persons crossing the border from México and Canada by land, but that plan has run into trouble in Congress.

Costa Rica requires U.S. citizens and others to have a valid passport to enter the country so the delays were a double whammy here. Persons who could not get their U.S. passports just did not visit.

Campaign launched for environmental university on Pacific coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A California-based foundation plans a world-class university with an environmental emphasis on Guanacaste's Pacific coast.

The ambitious project has moved ahead because two persons donated land for a campus.

The project is by The Celidon Foundation in Truckee, California. The president and chief executive officer is Rick Rantz, a dean for the Truckee center for Sierra College.

Speaking of the project, the foundation said in a press release that the University for a Sustainable Future is part of the Celidon Foundation’s “grand vision” to create a sustainable world for the present generation and all future ones.

The foundation said it was embarking on a $1.5 million solicitation to raise the pre-construction costs for the university. This includes soil studies and architectural renderings, the foundation said.

Rantz said in an e-mail that one donor of land is Luis Román Trigo, a member of the Asamblea Legislativa from 1994 to 1998, and that the other donor is a U.S. citizen who wishes to remain anonymous.

Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee researcher, is honorary chairwoman of the board. She met with
organizers last week during a visit to Guanacaste. The environmentally focused and integrated university will be dedicated to environmental, economic and social research; the development of clean and renewable technologies; and the advancement of eco-literacy, global stewardship, innovation, creativity, and scholarly excellence, said the foundation release.

The school is to be a prestigious institution that ranks among the world’s top universities and one that offers degrees through the doctoral level, said the release. The school also will use wind, solar and other clean technologies to reduce or eliminate the reliance on unsustainable energies, said the release.

Phase One of the University for a Sustainable Future will include an environmental studies and research institute, student and faculty residences, and pre-college and distance education components, all built by an institutional consortium that includes the Celidon Foundation, international universities, and pre-collegiate schools, said the release.

In a filing with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the foundation said it was planning a series of elementary and high schools that eventually would feed into a university. But Rantz said in his e-mail that the university is now the priority because the land was donated. 

There may be a later announcement of a K-12 earth-focused school in Costa Rica, he said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 180

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Casas in political doghouse
as even friends seek his head

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Kevin Casas, the nation's second vice president, is in political Siberia today for having suggested an aggressive campaign to win approval of the free trade treaty with the United States in the Oct. 7 referendum.

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones wants an investigation. The Partido Acción Ciudadana wants criminal charges brought. And even the Partido Movimiento Libertario, a legislative ally, wants him to resign.

Casas and Fernando Sánchez, a member of the Asamblea Legislativa ruling party, drafted a memo in which they suggested putting a little muscle in the campaign for the treaty. They wanted to use fear appeals, such as the possible loss of jobs if the measure was not passed. They also wanted to use political pressure to get the local mayors to support the treaty. Most of the mayors belong to the same party as the president, the Partido Liberación Nacional.

Somehow the memo became public, and its recipient, President Óscar Arias Sánchez, was forced to disavow the techniques. His brother, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez said in a letter to the tribunal that the views in the document were not shared by President Arias nor transmitted to a third party for possible consideration.

Rodrigo Arias said that the central government would put at the disposition of the tribunal any resources it needs to do an investigation. Casas also happens to be minister of Planificación, and the tribunal wants auditors in that ministry to check to see if any public funds were used to advance the cause of the treaty.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana directed a letter to Luis Antonio Sobrado González, president of the tribunal, in which legislative members pointed out that the penalty for compensating, threatening or using violence to get someone to vote a certain way is punishable by two years in jail. The political party suggested that Sobrado file a criminal complaint with the Ministerio Público, the nation's prosecutorial arm.

Meanwhile, Fernando Sánchez spoke at length about the memo in the session of the full legislature and described his involvement with the memo as an error.

Ferry manager tattles
on competing craft

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera was quick Monday to send off a letter to Puntarenas port authorities over problems with the new $11.5 million Tambor II ferry operated by a competitor.

Eddie Novo, the association's manager, sent a letter to Edwin Rodríguez of the División Marítimo Portuaria in case he did not know that the ferry had a smoke problem.

Novo correctly pointed out that firemen were called to the Paquera dock 7 p.m. Sunday when the ferry arrived from Puntarenas. He also pointed out that a crew member went to the local clinic. And he wanted the port officials to know that there was another mechanical problem Monday morning that also generated smoke.

The ferry and a sister ship, Tambor I,  are operated by Naviera Tambor, which won a concession to service the route between the mainland and Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. The association runs a competing and smaller ferry.

Novo asked that port officials verify the security of the Tambor II. The ferry is used extensively by tourists to reach the lower half of the peninsula.

New electronic file tracking
announced for immigration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The immigration department said Monday that it now has an electronic system to keep track of the more than 300,000 files in its archive.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is where foreigners go to get residency, and each individual generates a file.

The new system is supposed to pinpoint exactly where each file is at any time. The department has been plauged by the inability of employees to locate files, and many foreigners have had to reschedule appointments because of this failing.
That is in addition to the collapse of shelving in the basement archive of the central office in La Uruca when thousands of files fell to the floor and became mixed.

Mario Zamora, director general of Migración, said that the system was tested last week and proved to be successful. He said the new system would provide quicker service for foreigners.

The department still is months behind in renewing documentation for foreigners, and Zamora has been forced to issue a general automatic renewal to everyone with an expired identity paper two years in a row.

The general confusion, automatic extensions and delays in Migración have discouraged foreigners from seeking the various legally required residency statuses, and so far Migración has not cracked down except in the case of wanted criminals.

Democrats are seeking used books

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica are seeking book donations for their used book sale Sept. 29 at Plaza Colonial in San Rafael de Escazú. Those who wish to donate books can call 228-8260 and 203-8193 for pickup or bring them to the sale, the group said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 180

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Week will see patriotic events though Independence day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is civics week in Costa Rica where preparations are being made for the Saturday holiday.

But the day is not a holiday for public school children. Many schools will be participating in patriotic parades that day and the night before. But even if a school is distant from such activities, there are mandatory programs, and the youngsters must attend.

Saturday is the Día de la Independencia, the 186th anniversary of the end of Spanish rule. That is the reason public and private buildings are draped in patriotic colors and dotted with flags. It also is the day employers must pay their staff double if they work.

Public institutions compete to present events during much of the week.

Among these is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad which has its Fiesta de la Cultura Popular Costarricense in various locations around the country. The institute is following a national law that makes public entities reponsible for spreading culture.

The fiesta will be today at the headquarters of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad in Sabana Norte at 9 a.m. Wednesday the fiesta will be in Parque Alberto Manuel Brenes Mora in San Ramón, Alajuela, at 9 a.m. and at the  Casa de la Cultura, Puntarenas, at 7 p.m.

Thursday the event moves to San isidro de El General at 11 a.m.
At the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, youth bands will play from noon until 4 p.m. Thursday. They will be from  Palmares, Colegios Inmaculada de San Carlos, Técnico Profesional José Francisco J. Orlich from Sarchí and Saint Michael de Desamparados.

Friday is when the culture ministry will present its workshop on the construction of faroles, the nightlights citizens used 183 years ago to go into the public streets to find out about independence. Actually it was about another month before word reached Costa Rica, but Sept. 15 is the traditional date.

The workshop will be from 9 a.m. until noon. At 1 p.m. youngsters will enjoy what is being called a patriotic piñata. Three cultural presentations will follow. At 5 p.m.  Historian Carlos Zamora will talk about the symbolism and history of the Monumento Nacional. At 5:30 p.m. Adriana Collado, director general of culture, will reflect on independence.

At 5:45 p.m. youngsters and others will ignite the candle in their faroles and prepare to sing the Himno Nacional at 6 p.m.

The 6 p.m. singing of the national anthem is a tradition observed all over Costa Rica and even extends to curbside choruses in urban and rural areas.

Friday night the government is expected to be in the first capital of Cartago to receive the torch of liberty carried in relay from Guatemala. There has been no word yet if President Óscar Arias Sánchez will attend. He has been housebound with a painfull Archiles tendon.

Much of weekend storm damage reported to be in Heredia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A string of electrical storms Sunday hit the Provincia de Heredia the hardest, but there was damage elsewhere in the country.

Daniel Gallardo, president of the national emergency commission met with mayors from Barva, Santa Bárbara, Heredia Central, Flores and San Rafael Monday to assess the damages and plan repairs.

Gallardo blamed the saturation of the soil, the great quantity of garbage in the rivers and ditches as well as a tropical front that passed over the country for the problems. There was flooding and landslides.

Engineers for the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias visited the various communities to evaluate the damage, especially in Heredia. The heaviest damage was in Bajo Los Molinos, Mercedes Norte and Sur, Jardines, San Joaquín de Flores, Barva, Santa Bárbara, Sarapiquí, San Rafael and Heredia Centro. In Flores, officials said that 17 homes were affected and five of these were a total loss. The emergency commission opened a shelter for the victims.
In Guanacaste damage was reported in Florida de Tilarán where a river flowed out of its banks and damaged a sewer pipe. In the community of Hotel, another river flooded various homes and sent 20 persons into a local shelter.

In Merecedes Norte the main bridge that connects the community to Heredia Central suffered damage and cannot be used, the emergency commission said. Other bridges also suffered varying degrees of damage. There also was damage reported in Grecia in the Provincia de Alajuela where seven homes suffered damage from an overflowing irrigation ditch.

There also was damage near Quepos on the central Pacific where the road between that town and San Miguel was undermined. Passage was limited.

In Heredia there were landslides near the Escuela José Ramón Fernández that threatened two homes. In Flores, another slide damaged a home and a water pipe.  There also was a landslide reported on route 32 about 4 kms (about 2.5 miles) west of the Zurquí tunnel.

Another landslide was reported on the highway to Puriscal near the turnoff to the community of Quitirrisí.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 180

Colom and Pérez will be on the Guatemala ballot for president in runoff Nov. 4
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The top two candidates in Guatemala's presidential election — a businessman and a former general — are headed for a run-off Nov. 4 because no candidate won outright Sunday.

With a majority of ballots counted, election officials say center-left businessman Álvaro Colom is leading with 28.26 percent of the vote, followed by retired Gen. Otto Pérez Molina with about 23.55 percent.

Alejandro Giammattei of the Partido Gran Alianza Nacional ended up out of the money with 17.2 percent of the vote. He and Colom were neck-and-neck for second place in partial figures reported at midnight Sunday.

The other 12 candidates are trailing far behind. They
 include Nobel laureate and Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchu, who got just 3 percent of the vote.

Colom, a businessman and head of the Unidad Nacional por la Esperanza, has pledged to increase social spending to alleviate poverty. Pérez Molina of the Partido Patriotica has promised to crack down on crime by hiring more police and using the military to fight drug gangs.

The election winner succeeds outgoing President Oscar Berger.

Sunday's balloting was peaceful, but violence during the campaign killed about 50 people. Victims included candidates and party activists and family members. It was the deadliest political campaign since the end of Guatemala's 36-year civil war in 1996.

Noriega still in custody as his lawyers continue to fight extradition to France
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega remains in U.S. custody after his parole date as his lawyers fight an extradition request from France. The 73-year-old Noriega was scheduled to be released Sunday when his drug and rackteering sentence ended.

Federal Judge William Hoeveler in Miami ruled Friday that Noriega can be extradited to France to face money-laundering charges. The judge also lifted a temporary stay of extradition, rejecting defense arguments that France would not grant Noriega the protections of prisoner-of-war status.

Noriega ruled Panamá for more than 16 years despite never winning an election. Once an ally of the United States, Noriega sparked condemnation when his government was blamed for killing political opponents, rigging elections and trafficking Colombian cocaine into the United States. After months of tensions, U.S. military forces invaded Panama in late 1989 and seized Noriega.

Former U.S. attorney Guy Lewis helped convict Noriega in 1992 for drug and racketeering charges. He says the case was historic. "This is the first time — and the last time — that a leader of a country has ever been forcibly removed, in this case by the 82nd Airborne Division, and brought to the United States to stand trial."

Lewis says that during the trial Noriega felt that the charges against him were politically motivated and asked courts to declare him a prisoner of war. Lewis says what investigators found was a vast drug network linked to Panama.

"We always felt that this was a drug case. Clearly it had 
political ramifications, but we were trying to prove this guy smuggled dope, facilitated the smuggling of dope through his country, protected it, laundered the money that came back and that is what his role was."

Noriega's lawyers have filed court appeals claiming that his P.O.W. status blocks any extradition to France, where he faces money laundering charges. U.S. courts have rejected
the appeals. Panamá also has asked for Noriega's extradition to face charges of embezzlement, corruption and murder, although the dictator's former mansion is being remodeled.

Many Panamanians support the French extradition claim. Luis Botello, a former Panamanian journalist who lives in Washington, D.C., says few people believe the 73-year-old former leader would face justice at home. "Even though many Panamanians would like to see him be punished in Panamá, there is little confidence in the government. Many people want justice to be served, and if that can only happen abroad, then Noriega should go to France."

Botello says there is frustration that many of Noriega's former allies remain in power, and, he said, there has been no real effort to prosecute others accused of crimes during Noriega's rule. Botello said the recent extradition debate revives difficult memories about Noriega's dictatorship:

"The fact that Noriega's possible return has stirred up so many strong emotions some 17 years later, shows that Panamá is not ready to have him here yet, even if he went to prison."

Botello says Panama's government still needs to rebuild the public's confidence, which was damaged during the dictatorship. He says that may be easier without the former general.

Terrorists claim credit for six blasts that damaged Mexican gas and oil lines
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico's state-run Pemex oil monopoly says six explosions believed to be sabotage have damaged oil and natural gas pipelines in Veracruz state.

Officials say at least 21,000 people living near the explosions were evacuated, but there have been no confirmed casualties from the incident.

A secretive leftist rebel group named the People's
Revolutionary Army has claimed responsibility for the blasts. The group took credit for similar Pemex pipeline attacks a few months ago.

Also Monday, a truck loaded with chemical fertilizer exploded following a vehicle accident, creating a massive fireball that killed at least 29 people and wounded 150 others. The truck collided with another vehicle in the mining state of Coahuila. As onlookers gathered around the crash, the vehicle exploded, killing rescue workers and bystanders.

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