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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 187       E-mail us    
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U.S. vets, retirees facing medical care crisis here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As many as 1,000 retired U.S. servicemen, veterans and their family members are facing a medical crisis because the local hospitals will not accept the rates that the federal government is willing to pay.

A memo from the insurance department of Clinica Biblica says that Tricare claims are not being paid in full or are being denied completely.

"Due to these drastic changes in fee schedule Hospital Clínica Bíblica regretfully informs you that we will no longer be able to accept Tricare or VA patients on credit," said Biblica. "All bills must be paid for at time of service. This is effective as of September 14th 2006."

Tricare is the insurance program for the U.S. military, retirees, families and survivors. The program makes use of military hospitals and civilian facilities. In Costa Rica where there are no U.S. military hospitals, there is only civilian care.
In addition to Biblica, which handled about 600 veterans and dependents, Hospital CIMA handled some 400, according to Howard Singer, who has been active in the veteran insurance program here.

He said Tuesday that the new fee schedule established by Tricare is about half what the average Costa Rican would have to pay at either hospital.

Tricare and U.S. Veterans Administration representatives met with Biblica and CIMA workers in Panama, said Singer. They confirmed that the rates have been slashed. he said. The Biblica memo confirms that there was a meeting.
The new fee schedule appears to apply to all of Central America.

Those military retirees, veterans and dependents covered by the program now only have the option  of paying for the services provided by the hospitals and then seeking reimbursement. They would be reimbursed at the new, lower rates.

Tax police say they have found a new way to cheat
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's tax police has come across a method of smuggling goods that is being reported as a new idea.

Truckers who transport goods for customers of the tax-free Golfito free zone have been using old facturas and moving new merchandise, said the  Policía de Control Fiscal.

Confiscated in the last two weeks have been liquor, beer and appliances.

The Asamblea Legislativa created the free zone in Golfito as an economic incentive to support the area after the banana trade declined. Citizens can purchase untaxed products if they travel in person and stay overnight.

Naturally the situation lends itself to sharp practices, and a proposed tax plan last year would have closed the tax-free depot. One trick is that persons with no intention of making purchases sell their right to another party.

A steady business has grown in which drivers transport goods purchased by shoppers, many of
whom come on buses. What the tax police say now is that the drivers are pretending to transport customer goods but really are in business for themselves.

They suggest that this has not been done in the past.

With the arrival of some major appliance stores with competitive prices in the Central Valley, the attraction of the Golfito tax-free depot has diminished.

Juan Soto, director of the tax police, said that by stopping trucks, checking the serial numbers and comparing them with the numbers specified on the facturas carried by the drivers, officers have found that much of the merchandise does not even come from Golfito but Panamá.

The most recent truck confiscated carried some 20 million colons (some $38,600) in smuggled goods, he said.

Tax police and customs officers are under pressure to crack down on smuggling and tax evasion because one of the arguments against the Arias admininstration tax proposals is that the government has done little to collect all the taxes that are due.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 187

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Arias presents his plans
for arms treaty and debt

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez presented his three-part message to the General Assembly of the United Nations Tuesday.

First he promoted the so-called Costa Rican Consensus. That is the name of a plan to forgive debt to countries that reject arms and channel funds to social investments. Coupled with this is an international arms treaty that would try to prevent arms sales to countries that do not respect human rights or international law.

Second, Arias urged reality in free trade so that the developed nations do not always have an unfair advantage.

Bush was in New York, too: HERE!

Third he strongly backed international law and the United Nations.

"Each weapon is a visible sign of the postponement of the necessity of the most poor," said Arias. He told the diplomats that in his country children have never seen tanks of war and that the unusual architecture of some schools is evidence that they once were barracks or forts.

As in the past, Arias was critical of arms spending by the United States, particularly after Sept. 11,  2001, and said that Washington spends 25 times more on arms than it gives to developing countries.

On free trade Arias said that only by opening national economies will countries be capable of attracting a flow of investment funds.

However, "it is not ethically defensible the practice of the developed countries in pushing for the elimination of commercial barriers only in the sectors in which they have competitive advantages," said Arias. Developed countries need to have free trade in agriculture, too. he said.

Arias is one of 80 international leaders addressing the United Nations. His 2,600-word speech was a summary of what his administration has been promoting for the last four months.

While in New York, Arias also met with Javier Solano, representing the European Union. Arias sought backing for the arms treaty, according to Casa Presidencial. The draft of the arms treaty is to be presented today in New York with the United Kingdom as a co-sponsor. The purpose of the draft is to impanel a group of experts to work out the finer points of the treaty. Arias also met with Koffi Annan, the outgoing general secretary.

Costa Rica hopes to win a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Such a seat is reserved for Caribbean and Latin countries. But the chance is a long shot because Venezuela and Guatemala also seek the spot.

Property fraud figure
brought back from U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who used to work as a lawyer's assistant in Cartago is

Sergio Masis Mata
back in Costa Rica to face a sentence of 11 years in prison for property fraud.

He is Sergio Masis Mata, 40, who was arrested July 29 near Tampa after nearly eight years on the run.  He arrived by airplane in the company of U.S. marshals, said the International Police Agency. Masis was sentenced Nov. 25, 1998 and is believed to
have left Costa Rica via Panamá a few days after the sentence was ratified by the Sala III.

Law officers said that his conviction for fraud was based on evidence that he put his own name on property worth 600 million colons that his law firm was handling for clients. The property buyers were from Cartago, officers said. The conviction also included use of false documents

The colon was in the neighborhood of 185 to the U.S. dollar then, so the properties wold have been worth about $3.2 million

Hospital fire suspect
ends up as patient there

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an ironic twist, Juan Carlos Ledesma Sánchez, the nurse accused of setting a fatal fire 15 months ago at Hospital Calderón Guardia is now a patient there.

Rescue workers brought the comatose man to the hospital from the detention center in San Sebastian where he is being held for investigation.

Fire broke out July 12, 2005, and consumed the fifth and part of the fourth floor of the north wing that housed the surgical recovery ward. Three nurses, 15 patients and a man presumed to be homeless died in the blaze.

Ledesma was reported better late Tuesday in what officials are describing as a suicide try by poison.

Auditor in Curridabat
faces court restrictions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Curridabat municipal auditor has been hailed into court for investigation of illegal enrichment.

The man was identified by his last name of Corrales, according to the press office of the Poder Judicial. The office said that the man was freed on the condition that he sign in every 15 days and that he stay away from work or witnesses in the case. No other specifics were given except that the case is in the hands of a prosecutor in Pavas.

The man is believed to be Antonio Corrales, who has been involved in a dispute in the community.

Another traveler detained

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía de Control de Drogas said they found a man with the last names of Paterson Hailes on his way to Spain at Juan Santamaría airport. But a radiological exam shows that the man had something in his stomach.

Police said they recovered 359 grams of a white powder presumed to be cocaine from 69 packets. He became the 270th Costa Rican to be involved in a drug arrest at the airport, police said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 187

Afternoon rains cause flooding in section of Desamparados
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains Tuesday and soggy soil caused by rains Sunday and Monday combined to cause problems in the Central Valley.

Some 80 homes were flooded and at least two were destroyed in San Juan de Desamparados when river water inundated land that already has been condemned for building.

No one had evacuated the modest dwellings even though the national emergency commission ruled they should more than a year ago.

In Santa Ana, a plugged sewer pipe flooded a local school and forced classes to be canceled.

The rain started about 1 p.m. and continued through the dinner hour. Weather station reports in San José show little rain but localized storms were severe.

On a brighter note, Costa Rica continues to avoid Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes. So far there have been four Atlantic
hurricanes this season: Ernesto, Florence, Gordon and Helene. None came anywhere near Costa Rica and, the latest two remained in the mid-Atlantic.

On the Pacific side, storms typically approach land at a latitude higher than Costa Rica. There have been eight Pacific hurricanes this year out of the 15 depressions scientists tracked. México and the Baja have been hit. The latest, Tropical Depression Miriam, is being tracked in the Pacific.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that Costa Rica will experience rains until at least Friday, especially on the Pacific slope and the Central Valley. It issued a warning for residents to clean sewers and gutters while they had a chance and to take precautions against sudden inundations and landslides.

Noting that many of the storms come with electrical activity, the weather forecasters said that the usual precautions against lightning should be taken. Outside sports are out, including a game like golf where the player raises a metal object. And refuge should not be taken under a tree, they said.

Exports showed nearly an 18 percent jump in August over 2005 figures
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica exported nearly 18 percent more goods in August than it did a year ago, according to the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior.

Total exports for the month were $5.4 billion, some $820 million more than in the previous year, the ministry said.
Microprocessors continued to be the leading export, some 21.2 percent of the August totals, said the ministry. Bananas represented 7.4 percent of total exports.
The biggest customer continued to be the United States with 45 percent of the total exports going there. However, both China and Haiti showed increases.

The $2.3 billion shipped to the United States represented a 12.4 percent increase over August 2005, said the ministry.

Costa Rica exports 3,600 products. Six products make up nearly 60 percent of the agricultural exports. They are: mangos, plátanos, pineapples, bananas, coffee and  malanga, a root crop that is made into flour.

Vehicle inspection company takes a beating at Asamblea committee session
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of the current mandatory vehicle inspection said Tuesday that the monopoly inspection stations are charging three times as much as they should be and that the program does not reduce accidents or the number of stolen cars.

The opponents are members of the Movimiento Cívico Nacional, the group that staged devastating national road blockages in August 2004. They are Eddie González Sánchez and Alfredo Espinoza Esquivel.

They appeared before the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración.

They were testifying in favor of a change in the law that
would allow other shops to do vehicle inspections in lieu of Riteve SyC, which constructed new stations and has been doing the job as the only provider since July 15, 2002.

González Sánchez said that he has maintained a case in the office of the nation's prosecutor since June 13, 2003, alleging influence peddling and other illegal practices.

He also said that accidents caused by mechanical failure have increased 20 percent since the private company took over inspections. Before Riteve, individual mechanics shops did the inspection.

José Merino del Río of Frente Amplio said few things have generated such a unanimity of opinion in the country as has Riteve, a Spanish-Costa Rican consortium.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 187

Venezuela emerges as foot-dragger in narcotics control
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Venezuela has failed demonstrably during the past 12 months to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements, according to the White House.

Under U.S. law, the White House is required to compile an annual list of major drug-transit or drug-producing countries and assess these governments' efforts to combat illicit drugs.  The "majors list" released Monday, includes Afghanistan, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

A country's presence on the list is not necessarily an adverse reflection of its government's counternarcotics efforts or level of cooperation with the United States, but Monday the White House faulted Venezuela for not adhering to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.

The White House explained that the decision on Venezuela reflects the country's unresponsiveness to U.S. requests for counternarcotics cooperation, as well as the Venezuelan government's continued lack of action against drug trafficking through and within its borders.

"Venezuela's importance as a transshipment point for drugs bound for the United States and Europe has continued to increase in the past 12 months — a situation both enabled and exploited by corrupt Venezuelan officials," the White House said in a memorandum.  "Venezuela has not used available tools to counter the growing drug threat."

The White House specifically faulted the Venezuelan government for not prosecuting corrupt officials in a meaningful way, not renewing formal counternarcotics cooperation with the United States, and not using judicial wiretap orders to investigate drug cases.  The White House
also noted that seizures of illegal drugs transiting the country have dropped, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In 2005, Venezuela was also said to have  "failed demonstrably" as a partner in the war on drugs — in part, because it ended most air interdiction cooperation, refused U.S. counternarcotics overflights of Venezuela, curtailed military and law enforcement cooperation, replaced its most effective counternarcotics officials, and failed to implement its own money laundering and organized crime legislation.  All these problems persisted in 2006, the White House said.

Although countries found to have "failed demonstrably" in their counternarcotics efforts are, according to U.S. law, ineligible for many types of U.S. foreign assistance, the White House has expressed deep concern over the deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela and has issued a vital national interests certification that will allow the U.S. government to provide funds that support Venezuela's democratic institutions and political party system.

The White House also expressed concern over the decline in Bolivian counternarcotics cooperation since October 2005.
The White House noted that Bolivian government policies allowed the expansion of coca cultivation and slowed the pace of eradication until mid-year, when eradication efforts picked up.

Furthermore, the White House said that the Bolivian government's "zero cocaine, but not zero coca" policy has focused primarily on interdiction, to the near exclusion of complementary policies on eradication and alternative development.

While the White House applauded Bolivia's efforts in seizing cocaine and decommissioning laboratories, it encouraged the government of Bolivia to refocus its efforts on eliminating excess coca, the source of cocaine.

Bush, Saca and Zelaya consider specific national problems
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

President George Bush, Salvadoran President Tony Saca and Honduran President Manuel Zelaya discussed Central American relations, the upcoming elections in Nicaragua and other issues during separate meetings Monday in New York, according to White House official Dan Fisk.

Fisk is senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council.

Bush met separately with Saca and Zelaya in New York as part of a series of meetings coinciding with his participation in the U.N. General Assembly.

In a briefing on these sessions, Fisk said the situation in the region, specifically Central American issues and Nov. 5 elections in Nicaragua, were covered in both of Bush's meetings.

"Each president respectfully expressed the importance of a free, fair, transparent process in Nicaragua and the importance of the democratic forces in Nicaragua having space to fully participate, and make sure that the playing field was as level as possible," said Fisk.

He added that Venezuela also was discussed in both half-hour meetings, but within the context of the energy situation in the region and the efforts of Venezuela's state-owned energy company to get a foothold in Central America.

"As much as anything, it was more of just a matter-of-fact discussion," said Fisk.

Both El Salvador and Honduras, he observed, have expressed their support for Guatemala — not Venezuela — for a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council.


With regard to the session with Saca, Fisk said that the Honduran president raised the issue of crime and his nation's interest in greater cooperation with the United States in dealing with the growing transnational threat of gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha.

Fisk added that Bush was very receptive to the idea of increased cooperation and wants to do more to deal with this problem, as it threatens not only both countries, but also the region as a whole.

Fisk told reporters that Saca then updated Bush on El
 Salvador's discussions with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which oversees U.S. foreign aid disbursed through the Millennium Challenge Account initiative.  El Salvador has been in discussions and hopes to conclude an MCC compact this year.  This would be the third compact with a Western Hemisphere country, Fisk said.  He pointed out that Nicaragua and Honduras already have Millennium Challenge compacts.

Bush also thanked Saca and the Salvadoran people for their contribution to reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Fisk said.  El
Salvador has participated in seven rotations of troops to Iraq, and Bush was very appreciative of the efforts and the sacrifice that Salvadorans have made to support Iraqi democracy, said Fisk.


Bush and Zelaya met in June, and Fisk explained that their Monday meeting was in many ways a follow-up.

The Honduran president thanked Bush for his strong stance on immigration reform and hailed U.S.-Honduran cooperation in enforcing the U.S. Secure Border Initiative, Fisk said.

Zelaya and Bush also discussed the energy situation in

Honduras.  Honduras is one of the Western Hemisphere nations most dependent on imported oil, including oil to generate electricity, Fisk said.

"This is something of great concern to President Zelaya and Hondurans," he explained "President Zelaya wanted to give the president a brief on his thinking on how to proceed on this and [to offer] President Zelaya's proposal to create a mechanism to try to lower energy costs."

The White House official said that Bush's response to the Honduran leader stressed the importance of relying on market mechanisms and of limits on government interference.  Bush also reaffirmed his strong interest in considering alternative sources of fuel and energy, discussed ethanol and other fuel alternatives, and encouraged Central Americans to explore how sugar cane can be converted into ethanol.

Finally, Bush and Zelaya briefly conferred about the situation in Cuba and the importance of supporting the Cuban people's aspirations for a democratic transition. In addition, Zelaya said Honduras has an outstanding maritime boundary issue with Cuba that Honduran officials would like to see resolved, Fisk said.

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