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These stories were published Monday, Sept. 15, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 182
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Happy Independence Day, Costa Rica!
Our story is HERE!
The Duff family wants to sell you a flag or a farole for Costa Rica’s Día de la Independencia.

The family was near Parque La Sabana most of the day Sunday getting wet selling the patriotic gear, including the faroles or small lanterns traditional every Sept. 14.

Father Henry Duff and wife, Geradina Campos, are with Jose Duff Fernández and Alberto Jésus Duff along with Juan Edgar Managreiga in reflective vest.

See STORY!

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Pacheco talks tough about Limón strike threat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco has another possible strike on his hands, but this time he is talking tougher.

The Federación de Trabajadores Limonenses said it will no longer negotiate with the government and will call a general strike for Tuesday.

In a speech broadcast Sunday on the national radio and television networks, Pacheco said the government guarantees that it will take necessary actions to keep the RECOPE refinery, the docks and transportation running in the entire province.

Among other concerns, workers have claimed that the government wants to privatize the refinery and also the agency that operates the Limón and Moín ports. The refinery is Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, often called RECOPE. La Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo de la Vertiente Atlántica, called JAPDEVA, runs the ports.

Much of the country’s exports and imports pass through the Caribbean ports, so a strike would have major economic consequences. The refinery is the primary source for gasoline and diesel.

The labor situation in Limón is complex, and several cash payments to workers have been derailed by court decisions or decisions by  the Contraloría de la República, the fiscal watchdog.

Workers have broadened their demands, perhaps in anticipation of the success communication workers and teachers had earlier this year after striking. The workers want more government investment in the zone 
for development, a resumption of train service, more airport investment, the creation of more jobs, aid to the agricultural sector and

resolution to the continual problem of sanitary landfills for garbage and for citizen insecurity.

Pacheco did not say how he would keep critical aspects of the economy running if workers went on strike, but court action certainly is a possibility.

In his speech, Pacheco insisted that RECOPE and JAPDEP would continue as state agencies. He urged persons in Limón not to fall into the trap of those who are not thinking of the interests of the people of Limón but of power games.

No strike, no social instability nor the rupture of relations with the government will generate one new job in the province, one new house, a new clinic or a new school, Pacheco said

The president grew up in the Limón area and has always spoken fondly of it.  He said that in the last 16 months the province has received 30 billion colons in government support. That is some $74 million.

However, a lot of the money went to rebuild roads, bridges and schools damaged or destroyed by the May 2002 storms that ravaged the area and subsequent periods of heavy rains.

Plus Limón will bear the brunt of any reduction in banana exports. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based Chiquita Brands said Sep. 2 it would stop purchasing Costa Rican bananas for 10 weeks because of an oversupply. But now the company is negotiating a cut in price for the fruit. The firm handles about 25 percent of the nation’s crop and most of it passes through the Caribbean ports.

Pacheco seemed to be surprised by the strike by workers of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and that of the teacher unions. Both groups of strikers got more than they had sought when the government took highly conciliatory positions.

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Rain does not dampen the spirits in Cartago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Torch of Liberty made it to Cartago Sunday night despite downpours that dogged its two-day trip from the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican line.

As has been traditional for 39 years, the president of the country  accepted the torch from a youthful runner and then ignited a larger, stationery symbol of liberty.

The torch had crossed the border two days earlier from Nicaragua in the hands of a young runner. The tradition is that the flame goes to all the Central American States that were under the Spanish rule when liberty was declared in 1821. Student runners do the job.

Actually, Costa Rica did not get the news of liberty until October, but Sept. 15 is the date the retreat of the Spanish empire is celebrated here. This is the 182 year of independence.

In advance of the arrival of the torch, President Abel Pacheco convened his full consejo de gobierno specifically to discuss what the government has been doing for the province of Cartago.

The City of Cartago was the first capital and still is the ceremonial center for the Día de la Independencia. Due to the rain, the bulk of the sessions Sunday were in the Sala de Sesiones of the Municipalidad de Cartago. But Pacheco and his cabinet did venture outside to the Plaza Mayor in front of the famous Ruins of Cartago to receive the torch.

Pacheco, in a prepared talk, said the country had met many challengers, including maintaining the peace where instead of machineguns the country has computers, notebooks, medicines, pensions and schools of art. But he said the challenge now was to wrest some 900,000 Costa Ricans out of poverty.

"We are not condemned to live in underdevelopment," Pacheco said.

He listed eight categories of advances he sought, including reforms of the courts and of the legislature. He also mentioned but did not dwell on his environmental guarantees that he would like to see inserted into the country’s constitution.

Pacheco formally signed the guarantees at the independence celebration last year, but the proposals have languished in the Asamblea Nacional since.

The ceremonies continue today with Pacheco visiting the Monumento Nacional in Parque National at 9 a.m. to place a floral tribute there. This is the monument that depicts the Central American states as women defeating filibusterer William Walker, who tried to take over the countries in 1857.

Then there is another ceremony in Parque España just south of the towering building of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros in Barrio Amon at 9:30 a.m. A reception for diplomats follows in nearby Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry.

While the ceremony was going on in Cartago, all over Costa Rica schoolchildren were taking to the streets at 6 p.m. to sing the national anthem and to carry their faroles or torches. These are symbols of liberty and of the evening gatherings in 1821 where torches lighted the way of citizens who sought to hear the news and discuss its implications.

The torch parades were under police security and with the company of many parents. The faroles generally are constructed to resemble little houses, although a great deal of creativity is permitted.

A plan for Cartago

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo Castro, minister of Turismo, said Sunday that his agency was preparing a tourism plan for the Province of Cartago that would be read in December.

President Abel Pacheco applauded the news, delivered during the consejo de gobierno, and said that Cartago has a lot to offer, including volcanoes and other natural attractions. He also mentioned the religious center of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, some three blocks from where the two were sitting in Cartago’s municipal hall. At the basilica is where the Negrita or Black Virgin is kept. 


 
 
U.S. citizen hostages
don’t want rescue

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Three Americans held hostage by rebels in Colombia say they do not want any attempts made to rescue them. The comments from the civilian contractors to the U.S. government were made in an interview that has revived debate over a possible prisoner swap. 

A journalist interviewed the three U.S. defense contractors being held in a jungle hideout by Colombian rebels. 

The three men were on an intelligence mission when their single-engine plane crash-landed in rebel territory seven months ago. Commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) say they are holding the Americans, and will only release them as part of a prisoner swap in return for jailed rebel leaders.

In photos made public this weekend, the men appear healthy and freshly shaved, while three rebels holding semiautomatic rifles stand guard. According to Colombian journalist Jorge Enrique Botero, who interviewed the men, they believe a rescue attempt would result in their death.

The interview raises several issues. The U.S. State Department regards the FARC as an international terrorist organization and refuses to negotiate with the rebel army. But a rescue operation would be extremely risky and U.S. military officials say they have no idea where the men are being held.

And even if the three Americans are freed, the fate remains uncertain for 1,800 Colombians kidnapped so far this year. The FARC are also holding Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate. And some military officers have spent more than five years in captivity.

Colombia's government has suggested it may agree to a partial prisoner swap to release ailing hostages. But the government refuses to exchange innocent kidnapping victims for rebels who have committed war crimes, and a full-scale prisoner swap seems unlikely. 

High-tech passport
delay is possible

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is postponing enforcement of rules requiring citizens of certain countries, most of them European, to have machine-readable passports to enter the United States. However, the U.S. government is still pushing for them to have more tamper-proof passports in one year. 

New rules that would have required 27 countries to issue their citizens computer-coded, machine-readable passports have been put on hold. 

The rules, which apply to foreigners who normally can enter the United States without a visa, were laid down by Congress in the USA Patriot Act, and would have gone into force on Oct. 1. 

But a number of foreign governments, including Switzerland, France, and Italy, told U.S. officials that they could not get the high-tech passports into circulation in time, and that immediate enforcement would cause chaos. 

Stuart Patt of the State Department's Consular Affairs Bureau says countries that feel they cannot meet the deadline can request and receive a one-year waiver. 

Patt explained: "We are asking that, if a country does want to request such an extension on behalf of its citizens, that they are working toward coming up with a machine-readable passport program that will get that passport into the hands of all the travelers, and that they will see to it that their non-machine-readable passports are handled with appropriate security." 

The requirements, passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States two years ago, are intended to keep track of entrants and to stop suspected terrorists from getting into the United States on phony passports. 

Patt says machine-readable passports, which can be scanned by a computer and automatically checked against a database, are simply more secure. And, he says, even more stringent passport requirements are on the horizon. 

"The machine-readable passport is less subject to tampering, is a more fraud-resistant document," he said. "But ultimately, all of these countries are going to be moving toward a biometric indicator on the passport as well. And we want to encourage them to get to that point, which will be necessary by Oct. 26 of next year - 2004." 

Patt points out that the type of biometric indicator on the passport is up to the International Civil Aviation Organization, but will likely be something like computerized recognition of facial characteristics in the photograph. 

Most of the 27 countries, where citizens are not required to have visas to enter the United States and where the computer-readable passports are required, are in Europe, but also include Australia, New Zealand and Japan. 

For countries not included in the visa-waiver program, the State Department is now requiring a personal interview by a consular official of nearly every first-time applicant for a U.S. visa.
 

Mata Redonda weighs
possibility of recycling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Citizens in Mata Redonda have set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of recycling in their district. 

The meeting will be Sept. 20 at the Costa Rica Tennis club at 9 a.m. 

Just so residents get in the spirit, the organizers plan to take a break about 10 a.m. and cross the Prospero Fernández highway to spend two hours cleaning up Parque La Sabana.

The district is generally that around the park on San José west side.

Organizers said they would look to the experiences in the Municipalidad de Escazú and its recycling program.
 

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U.S. clearly knew about threat before Sept. 11
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the second anniversary of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington also came renewed criticism that the U.S. government knew in advance about the terrorists.

The more strident on the Internet claim that the whole terrorist assault was set up by the Bush administration to goad the country into fascism.


An analysis on the news


In the meantime, critics from the left and right have launched attacks of their own on the U.S. intelligence apparatus and its presumed failures. See, for example this story in the Philadelphia Daily news

A quick glance at the Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, A.M. Costa Rica shows that the U.S. government knew something. Officials just didn’t get it right.

Early Sept. 11, 2001, some five hours before the first plane smashed into the World Trade Tower in New York, A.M. Costa Rica had published a story with this headline:

U.S. issues new alert for citizens

The article, written in San José and available here, was based on a U.S. State Department warning, which said that the government is taking seriously information that U.S. citizens might be targets of groups with links to Usama Bin Ladin and his al-Qaida  organization. 

However, the U.S. government got the scenario wrong because the report said that officials had heard reports that terrorist actions may be taken against U.S. military facilities or places frequented by military personnel in Korea and Japan.

The U.S. government warning had been issued the previous Friday, Sept. 7.

One dark criticism of the Bush administration is that officials too quickly linked the terrorist attacks to al-Qaida because of some secret advanced knowledge. But it is clear from the State Department public warning that officials were expecting some action from al-Qaida even before the attack.

As news arrived later Tuesday of the terrorist attacks, A.M. Costa Rica republished its first page 

Fox photo
These people knew something: the cast of 'The Lone Gunman," an 'X-File' spinoff.

twice to its Internet server. Each time the story about the warning was pushed further down the electronic page.

After the attack, some Bush administration officials said they have been caught flat-footed because they never expected that terrorists would use passenger jets as flying bombs.

So on Oct. 4, 2001, A.M. Costa Rica recounted the story line from a popular Fox television show with the headline:

Conspiracy show on TV 
      featured airliner targeting 
         NYC World Trade Towers 

The story began this way:

"A March pilot of the television show "The Lone Gunman" featured a passenger jet being secretly programmed to crash into the World Trade Center. 

"The show aired as a rerun in Costa Rica on cable just a few weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States where two passenger jets did plow into the World Trade Center towers. 

"The fictional episode did not involve Muslim terrorists. Instead, the bad guys were shadowy U.S. government officials who controlled the plane from afar with a secure computer linkup." 

The two stories make it clear that those who would discuss the failings or lack of failings of intelligence agencies and governments should do some research to learn the facts before making allegations.


 
 
Another lender backs Peru's Amazon gas line
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Inter-American Development Bank has approved $135 million in financing for a natural-gas development project in Peru that the bank calls "one of the most significant capital investment programs" in Peruvian history.

The decision Wednesday on the controversial project came after the bank said it was satisfied by the Peruvian government's assurances that it would protect the natural environment in the Amazon jungle region where the Camisea gas project would run. The overall project includes construction of a natural-gas distribution network in Lima, which the bank said will bring cleaner air to Peru's capital city.

The bank’s approval follows the Aug. 28 rejection by the U.S. Export-Import Bank of a request for a $200-million loan guarantee to support U.S. exports for the gas development project in Peru. The Export-Import Bank said the project does not comply with its own environmental guidelines and is likely to create serious environmental problems in Peru.

Loan guarantees for over $200 million had been requested by a Texas-based company, Hunt Oil, which is involved in the $2-billion project, along with companies from Argentina, South Korea, and Algeria.

Environmental groups have opposed the project, which they say threatens pristine rainforest and local native populations. The project is located in what environmental groups call one of the world's most ecologically prized rainforests in the remote 

Urubamba Valley in the southeast Peruvian Amazon. The environmentalists say government oversight is weak, "and project financiers seem unable and unwilling to implement international standards to stop devastation" to the region.

The development bank said, however, that Peru will create a commission for sustainable development to restore and enhance the environmental quality of Paracas Bay, about 210 kms. (130 miles) south of Lima, in the area where the pipeline would be built. Peru would also implement management plans for the Paracas National Reserve, and ensure long-term sustainable development for the Paracas Bay area. The Paracas National Reserve is an important resting spot for migrating birds in the Americas.

Peru has declared the project to be in the country's national interest. The development bank said the project is expected to bring Peru major economic benefits, lower the cost of energy in the country, and reduce the nation's air pollution by replacing other more environmentally damaging fuels with natural gas.

Other benefits accruing to Peru from the project, the IDB said, include an improved trade balance for the country, more competitive industry, higher tax collections, greater national income from royalties, and more employment opportunities.

News reports indicated that Peru's President Alejandro Toledo remains committed to the project, which the Peruvian government says is about 70 percent complete. "The Camisea project cannot stop and is not going to stop," Toledo said a week ago. "We need a cleaner and cheaper form of energy."


 
Cancun world trade talks fizzle
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CANCUN, México — World Trade Organization negotiations have collapsed in Cancun, leaving unresolved major issues of opening markets in agriculture, industrial goods and services.

The failure Sunday touched off celebration among protesters and victory statements from some developing country officials. But U.S. officials said the breakdown would hurt developing countries most by delaying world economic recovery and forestalling reduction of poverty.

By all accounts, the proximate cause of the collapse was a failure to overcome wide differences on the first issues taken up for serious negotiation, the so-called Singapore issues of government procurement, trade facilitation, investment and competition (antitrust).

Some delegations, notably those from the European Union and Japan, favored launching negotiations immediately on all these issues. Several developing countries, however, were against any negotiations on the Singapore issues. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Josette Shiner earlier Sunday said that the United States was less interested in moving forward in all four areas but would have liked to see progress on trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement.

The delegates never even reached the point of tackling the more divisive agricultural issues.

By the reckoning of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, however, the underlying cause of the collapse was the inability of several developing countries to make the move in time from rhetorical exchanges to give and take for results.

"Some countries will now need to decide whether they want to make a point or whether they want to make progress," Zoellick said at a briefing after the collapse.

Zoellick expressed doubt that the World Trade Organization negotiations launched at Doha, Qatar, in 2001 could be completed on schedule by the end of 2004. He added that the United States would vigorously continue negotiating free trade agreements with willing partners.

At the end of December 2003 a provision of the 1994 World Trade Organization agriculture agreement called the peace clause is scheduled to expire; the Cancun meeting never considered an extension favored by the United States and European Union.

The peace clause prevents legal challenges to agricultural subsidies under the 1994 subsidies agreement. Not known is whether the expiration will result in a surge of challenges to U.S., European Union, Japanese and other agricultural subsidies.

A written statement issued in Washington by Sen. Charles Grassley, Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, pointed out that the president's trade promotion authority to negotiate agreements, otherwise known as fast track, is scheduled to expire in June 2005.

"While this authority can be extended," Grassley said, "it is by no means certain that the U.S. Congress will agree to do so."

Meanwhile, work on the trade agenda returns to Geneva. All the difficult hurdles remain on opening markets in agriculture, industrial goods and services as well as working out the issues pressed by developing countries such as reform of rules on dumping and subsidies.

The trade pact was to eliminate trade barriers and open markets around the world. The World Trade Organization says new talks are to be held before the end of the year. 

The World Bank has estimated that a global trade agreement could add $500 billion to the world's income over 10 years and bring 144 million people out of poverty.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said that real progress has been made and that negotiations will be picked up in the future.  The international aid group Oxfam called Cancun "a turning point", because of what it called "the new power of developing countries". 

In the corridors of the meeting hall advocates and globalization protesters celebrated with a parody of on old Beatles song ("Can't Buy Me Love"), singing, "Money can't buy the world." 


 
 
Electoral council rejects anti-Chavez petitions
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The National Electoral Council has rejected an opposition petition calling for a referendum on President Hugo Chavez's rule.  Electoral officials said Friday here that the petition — which an estimated three million people signed — was invalid because of procedural errors. 

They say one error was that the opposition collected the signatures before Aug. 19,  the midpoint of President Chavez's current term. Venezuela's constitution allows citizens to petition for a recall halfway through the president's six-year term. 

The electoral council decision is a setback for opposition hopes to vote the president out of office this year. But, Chavez's opponents are pledging to start a new petition on Oct. 5.

The opposition needs to collect the signatures of at least 20 percent of Venezuela's nearly 12 million registered voters to demand the binding referendum. 

The opposition has been seeking Chavez's ouster, saying he has ruined the economy and is trying to install Cuban-style Communism. 

The president insists he is working to improve the lives of Venezuela's impoverished majority. 

President Chavez was first elected in 1998 and was re-elected two years later under a new constitution that extended the presidential term to six years. 

He survived a coup attempt in 2002, a two-month general strike earlier this year, several one-day work stoppages and numerous street protests. 


 
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