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(506) 223-1327              Published Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 192           E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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No to TLC two
Multiple posters in school window

no to TLC one
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
'Open your eyes . . . .'
NO to TLC three
'My heart says no . . . .'

A school in Zapote where all the elementary students think the same
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How do children learn? That's a topic that has filled many a library shelf, academic journals and Ph.D. dissertations. In formal education, the influence of the teacher is great.

So what is the evaluation of a window in a private school in Zapote where all the posters done by elementary level children oppose the free trade treaty with the United States?

Could it be that all the youngsters all came to the same conclusion independently. Or is this a sign of the teacher's influence?
"My heart says no to the sale of Costa Rica," says one. "Even the animals oppose the TLC," said another, using the Spanish acronym for the pact.

"We have to protect our country. Open your eyes to the TLC," says another.

An additional possibility is that the youngsters are reflecting what they have heard in the home. Since a private school attracts children from upper income families, the display of posters does not bode well for the treaty.

And in this case the school is just a few block from Casa Presidencial where the treaty's biggest supporter, Óscar Arias Sánchez, can be found.

Joint project aims to awaken Plaza de la Democracia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The municipality and the culture ministry want to redo the Plaza de la Democracia in downtown San José.

The idea is to make the main entrance to the Museo Nacional from the plaza even if an elevator has to be constructed.

The plaza is between Avenida Central and Avenida 2 just west of the museum, which used to be a military fort. The turrets of the structure still carry the bullet holes from the 1948 revolution.

The man who led that revolution,  José Figueres Ferrer, is immortalized in a larger-than-life statute on a concrete pedestal in the plaza. But not for long.

Part of the plan is to demolish the concrete and move the founder of modern Costa Rica elsewhere in the plaza. And more trees will be planted

The Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, which operates the museum, said in a release Wednesday that it anticipates to incorporate the plaza into museum activities. Now events either
take place inside the museum or on the pedestrian walkway that runs along the east side.

The first part of the project is to break up the concrete, install new lighting and trees. The project also will provide handicap ramps. The cost is estimated at 114 million colons or about $220,000. Completion is scheduled for the first half of next year. The ministry will put up 81 million colons and the Municipalidad de San José the rest. The ministry calls the project La plaza despierta, or "the plaza awakes."

Once the concrete is out of the way, work will begin on the new museum entrance, the ministry said. Visitors will be able to enter the structure through the ground floor butterfly farm on the same level as the plaza or zip to the second floor in an elevator designed to show off the city. This second stage will take place in late 2008 or 2009, the ministry said.

Efforts also will be made to repaint and fix up the main entrance so it can be put in use again. Access to the museum now is from the east. The plaza now is like an amphitheater with a series of concrete buttresses and seats. The area is used extensively for political rallies.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 192

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 Our reader's opinion
His criminals wore blue
to shake him down

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story about the Sunday afternoon ladrón in your Sept. 25 edition.
It was refreshing to have the issue of crime viewed through the prism of humor, as opposed to the prism of anger and outrage that so many of us express after falling victim to one form of thievery or another.
As I get ready to return to Costa Rica for just a brief stay in a part of the country I've never visited before, I thought I'd share my favorite story about the police.
It happened two years ago this coming November.
 I had rented an apartment in San Pedro while taking some language classes in the city. I spent Sunday night through Friday afternoon in San José and San Pedro, and then endured the bus ride back home to the Caribbean for the weekends.
One weekend, however, I opted to stay urban. It was a bad weekend to stay.
The plumbing in the apartment went haywire. I couldn't shower, flush the toilet, nothing. This all began on a Thursday.
By Saturday, after using bottled water to sponge bathe and flush the toilet for two days, I'd had it.
I called a Tica friend who has a beautiful pension in Barrio Amón and begged for a room.
On Sunday afternoon about two o'clock, I left the pension, walked 100 meters to the intersection at the top of the hill, turned to the right, and grabbed some lunch at the neighborhood soda. I'd stuck 5,000 colons in my pocket and nothing else.
My lunch cost about 2,700 colons. Do the math and you'll know how much I had left over.
As I turned the corner to return to the pension, a Fuerza Pública vehicle pulled up alongside the curb. In an authoritarian tone of voice, one of the three officers in the vehicle yelled, "Señor, ¡alto, alto!"
So, I stopped.
Two officers jumped out of the vehicle. One demanded I produce my papers.
I politely explained my papers were just 50 meters away in my room at the pension.
"Señor," the officer said, "Tienes un problema."
The next thing I knew, I was spread eagle against the wall, being patted down and, quite frankly, verbally abused. I started to get pissed.
Finally, I asked, "Cuanto?"
The officer who'd ordered me to stop said, "Viente cinco mil colones."
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the change from my lunch.
The cop chuckled and snidely said, "Ah, señor, tienes un problema muy grande."
With the next day being a national holiday, I knew that if those extortionists posing as police officers hauled me off to immigration jail, I was going to sit there for several days.
Now, I am not a religious person but what happened next was, I believe, some kind of divine intervention. For whatever reason, both of the extortionists turned their backs and went back to the car. I saw my chance, and I took it. I bolted at full speed toward the pension.
I could hear the extortionists in hot pursuit yelling "¡alto!" at the top of their lungs.
Thankfully, the manager on duty had the door open. As I blew by him to get to my room to get my passport, I told him what was going down.
He was a godsend. He stopped the extortionists cold in their tracks. I got my passport, and sheepishly entered the lobby.
The Spanish was flying fast and furious.
One officer, I use that term loosely, was telling the manager they could have shot such a stupid gringo.
The manager fired back that shooting me in the back would have been great PR for the country, given that the stupid gringo was simply trying to produce his passport to prove all was in order to a band of rogue cops who were looking to shake him down for a quick buck.
The manager angrily demanded their names, badge numbers, the name of their supervisor, etc. etc.
The three extortionists quickly backed off and, as snakes often do, slithered away.
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
But the incident taught me a valuable lesson about Costa Rica. It taught me that crime is not limited to the lowlife thief who poisons your dog before burglarizing your house.
Crime, and engaging in criminal activity of one sort another, is endemic to the culture. It's why, as much as I love many things about Costa Rica, I will never spend any extended periods of time here again.
 Michael Cook
 North Truro, Massachusetts

City bike hike planned for Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municpalidad de San José plans a bike hike Sunday to tour the green areas of the city as well as the Río María Aguilar biological corridor. The event begins at 8:30 a.m. and will last two and a half hours. Participants are expected to cover 17 kms. or about 10.5 miles.

The route begins and ends at the Parque Metropolitano del Sur. It follows train tracks from there to Plaza González Víquez to the Parque de la Paz, San Sebastián, Sagrada Familia, Hatillos, Pavas, and then Parque la Sabana.

Police will accompany the bikes as will a truck in case a bike fails, said municipal officials

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 192

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Abuse alleged years ago in Texas
Daughter of child kidnapping suspect stands by her mom

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 18-year-old daughter of the woman detained for international parental kidnapping said Wednesday that both she and her mother were physically abused by her father before the pair fled Texas 10 years ago.

In addition, the Costa Rican companion of the jailed woman appeared on Channel 6 Repretel to give the television audience the same account.

The young woman, Alexandria Camille Cyprian, said that she continued to have nightmares as a result of the physical and psychological abuse inflicted on her by her father. She said that a Texas judge who awarded joint custody to her father made a wrong decision.

This is the case of Chere Lyn Tomayko, 45, who was detained a week ago for violating a judge's order and fleeing Texas with Alexandria Cyprian when she was just 7 years old.

The ex-boyfriend, Roger Cyprian, a physician's assistant in Fort Worth, denied the abuse charge in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said that Ms. Tomayko also alleged sexual abuse that could not be substantiated to the satisfaction of the judge.

The jailed woman's companion, Javier Montero, a veterinarian, stressed the abuse allegation when he appeared on television during the 7 p.m. news. Both he and the woman's daughter said the family would contest a request by the United States to extradite Ms. Tomayko.

Miss Cyprian said that her mother "was giving us the most normal life that she could" until she was picked up by agents of the International Police Agency.

The charge against her escalated into a federal felony when she was indicted by a U.S. grand jury in 2000, and that
put her on the 10 most wanted list of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case has a dimension beyond the criminal charge against Ms. Tomayko. U.S. Embassy employees have known for at least five years where the woman was, yet no police action came until Miss Cyprian turned 18 July 14.

A reporter for another news outlet said that he questioned Magda S. Siekert, press spokeswoman of the U.S. Embassy, on this point Wednesday but she declined to comment, citing the federal privacy act.

It is not known what action, if any, embassy officials will take to see if employees violated U.S. law by failing to take prompt action to apprehend a federal fugitive.

Cyprian, the teen's father, was unhappy when he found out that embassy employees were not forthcoming with the woman's location. He discussed his 10-year search for the daughter in a news story Wednesday.

Miss Cyprian said that the story was incorrect in identifying her as a Country Day School student. In fact, she attended the European School in Heredia, she said.

The young woman also did not like the reference to her mother being on the same list with Osama Bin Laden. Ms. Tomayko probably was put on the list to highlight the illegality of parental kidnapping and not because she is in the same league with Bin Laden.

Ms. Tomayko has two children by Montero, and, as the mother of children born here, she could easily legalize her immigration status. For a time it appears that she was leaving the country to renew a tourist visa every 90 days.

The woman's lawyer is expected to stress this point and the issue of physical abuse when a local judge holds a hearing on the extradition request.

As a place to do business, ratings of Costa Rica differ
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two international studies paint different pictures of Costa Rica as a place to do business.

Transparency International ranks the world’s countries in terms of perceived public-sector corruption, based on multiple surveys of local experts. This year, Costa Rica scored 5.0 on a scale of 1 to 10 for 46th place worldwide and third in Latin America.

This is an improvement over recent years, and Costa Rica was singled out by the report as a place with “autonomous and respected institutions in place that can adequately fight corruption.” It speculated that the rebound from 4.1 in 2006 was due to progress by the legal system in taking up the cases of bribery involving two ex-presidents and high officials of the government health services and telephone monopoly.

Ironically, Transparency International is closely involved with the World Economic Forum. Former Costa Rican
president Jose María Figueres was forced to resign as director of that agency when his name was connected to the scandals. No wrongdoing on his part was ever shown.

The World Bank’s “Doing Business” ranking is not so kind. It has Costa Rica in 115th place overall of 178 “economies” around the world. Only relatively good rankings for the ease of registering property and for obtaining credit prevented a worse score.

Even if intrinsically fair, the Costa Rican courts are so overburdened and slow that the difficulty of enforcing contracts hampers international business. For example, the Villalobos fraud trial took nearly five years to reach a verdict (with appeals pending), and investors with claims are still waiting. The report has a category for contracting, with this country in 130th place —  just behind Swaziland.

In terms of protecting investors, the World Bank ranks Costa Rica in 158th place, tied with Switzerland and Haiti. The former is known for not returning Holocaust victims' bank deposits to heirs, while the latter is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

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U.S. would try to regain tourism edge
$50 million plan designed to shed 'Fortress America' image

 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two U.S. Congressmen have introduced legislation aimed at improving America's image abroad by promoting international tourism to the United States. The bill would establish a competitive $50 million grant to boost international business and leisure travel to America from five target countries. 

The program will also seek to give foreign tourists a friendlier welcome at U.S. airports and other entry points.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, a Democrat representing California's scenic central coast, summed up how fewer foreign tourists are coming to America.

"International travelers aren't coming to America and figures show it," said Farr. "The U.S. has experienced a 17 percent decline in overseas visitors since Sept. 11, 2001."

A Pew Global Attitudes Project survey from 2006 confirms that favorable opinions of the U.S. have fallen substantially in most of the 15 countries surveyed since the year 2000. The survey says the war in Iraq has had a negative impact on the opinion of America not only in predominately Muslim countries, but also in Europe and Asia.

Another recent survey by the Discover America Partnership group found that international travelers ranked the United States as having the world's worst entry process. The study also revealed a general perception abroad that the U.S. is not welcoming to foreign visitors.

Farr said he believes Americans are among the friendliest, most helpful and most accepting people in the world. But
he thinks the current "Fortress America" image comes from a combination of factors.

Kids have access to Ipods and media. They've just seen America as a very violent country. They're afraid to come here," he said. "Frequent travelers find that when they come now they get hassled, and it's uncomfortable for them. They are distinguished people."

The co-sponsor of the tourism bill, U.S. Rep. Jon Porter, says the U.S. should be secure and welcoming.

"The problem is that right now there is this perception that we're not as friendly as we really are," said Porter. "And because of our emphasis on security, homeland security, I think that the pendulum has swung too far, and that is how we are treating our visitors."

Porter, a Republican from the state of Nevada, represents another popular tourist destination, Las Vegas. His state has used hospitality industry workers to train transportation security employees to be friendlier to arriving tourists and business travelers.

Under the tourism bill, local, state and private tourism initiatives would be able to compete for grants to inform and attract tourists.

The five-year, $50 million tourism bill would initially focus only on five countries that currently have the most nationals traveling to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany.

The congressmen agreed that the best antidote to a tarnished image is for foreign tourists to come to the U.S. and experience its landscape, its people, its music and its food.

Chávez says that Bush could help to get U.S. hostages in Colombia released
 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has suggested that U.S. President George W. Bush could help secure the release of some long-held hostages in Colombia, including three Americans.

Chávez, a socialist who a year ago called Bush "the devil" during a United Nations speech, said Tuesday the United States can help get the hostages released.

He made the comment after meeting in Caracas with the
 families of three Americans held hostage by Marxist rebels in Colombia since 2003. U.S. State Department contractors Thomas Howe, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalez were abducted after their plane was shot down during an anti-drug mission.

Colombia's largest rebel group, known as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, wants hundreds of its prisoners released in exchange for the three Americans.

Two of the prisoners the rebels want freed are jailed in the United States.

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