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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 194
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Zoellick comes here to shore up trade support
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services

The top U.S. trade treaty salesman will be in Costa Rica today trying to shore up support for a Central American free trade treaty.

He is Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative, a cabinet post. His visit had been announced in general terms last week.

Zoellick is in Costa Rica less than 24 hours. He was be at a chicken factory, appropriately for lunch, today. Later he has a meeting with President Abel Pacheco and a whole team of officials at Casa Presidencial in Zapote.

During his stay here, he will meet with national deputies and participate in a roundtable with business executives. He will be in El Salvador Thursday and in Nicaragua Friday.

The U.S. government said his visit is to show the importance of treaty negotiations, which are now in their final stages and are supposed to be completed by the end of the year.

Great strides have been made this year in crafting a comprehensive free trade agreement between the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, Zoellick said before he left Washington. He said he looks forward to his discussions with regional leaders on efforts to complete the negotiations this year. 

The Central American free trade agreement (CAFTA) gained more importance as a result of the collapse of World Trade Organization negotiations in Cancun earlier this month. Costa Rica sided with less-developed countries.

"Central America holds great promise for building on our already close trade ties that have spurred jobs and growth in all our countries," Zoellick said. "The recent setback in Cancun of the global trade talks makes it all the more important that we continue pressing to open markets bilaterally with CAFTA and throughout the hemisphere with the Free Trade Area of the Americas."

President Pacheco supports a free trade treaty and said so in a letter to the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos. The text was released by Casa Presidencial Tuesday. He urged them to consider what a free trade treaty would mean for the less fortunate.

"There is nothing hidden or undemocratic in the conversations that my government is carrying forth, Pacheco said in the letter. Officials have been criticized for the secrecy of the talks and lack of consultation with a number of sectors of society.

Pacheco plans a major news conference with his assembled ministers after the Zoellick meeting.

Pacheco, however, insists that opening up the Costa Rican telecommunications market will not be permitted. Even so he has been criticized by employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the communications  monopoly, for alleged efforts to fracture the company.

Costa Rican agricultural producers also are not happy with the possibility of competing with what they say is a heavily subsidized First World agricultural machine.

Aug. 4, the Bush administration notified Congress of its intent to also initiate negotiations with the Dominican Republic, and to seek to integrate the Dominican Republic into the Central American pact. The administration could then send Congress one bill that would include the six countries. 

The United States and the five Central American countries share almost $25 billion in total, two-way trade. U.S. goods exports to the Central Americans are on track to reach $11.5 billion in 2002, better than a 42 percent increase since 1996. That total is about the same as U.S. exports to Russia, India and Indonesia combined. 

The United States is expected to import $13 billion of goods from the Central Americans in 2003, of which 74 percent entered duty free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative and Generalized System of Preference programs.

More time in custody for Oswaldo Villalobos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oswaldo Villalobos will spend Christmas in custody, a judge has ruled, a spokesman for the Poder Judicial said Tuesday.

The term of preventative detention against Villalobos expired last week but officials sought and had been granted a four-month extension. He has been in custody since last November.  He will be detained until Jan. 27, the judge said.

The former operator of the Ofinter S.A. money changing houses is spending his time at Clinica Catolica. However, he is in custody.

Some creditors of the Villalobos borrowing operation have been watching the incarceration of Oswaldo. They hoped for his freedom as a sign that the government case against him and his brother, Luis Enrique Villalobos, a fugitive, had weakened.

In fact, there has been no indication of what kind of case prosecutors are building against the brothers. Luis Enrique Villalobos is being sought on allegations of money laundering and fraud. 

He is listed with the International Police Agency. (INTERPOL).

No charges have been actually brought because if that happens, it happens at the end of a criminal investigation in Costa Rica.

Although Oswaldo Villalobos has been in custody for nearly a year, he could spend one more year because a judge has determined the case is a complex one, thus allowing prosecutors to take more time. 

Because his brother is a fugitive, few seriously thought that Oswaldo Villalobos would be let go this week.

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Immigration tightens
rules about cédulas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is tightening up the issuance of cédulas and continuing the limited hours that it had maintained in September.

As of today, the immigration officials will only deliver cédulas of residency to the person named on the identification document, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said in a press release.

If someone cannot come to the immigration offices in La Uruca due to being incapacitated, officials said they would make home delivery.

In order to remove a backlog, officials only kept the immigration office open for dealing with the public from 8 a.m. to noon in September. The release Tuesday said this would continue at least through October.

Officials also warned Costa Ricans that they should plan ahead to obtain any needed passports before the holiday rush.

Theater group 
plans ‘Odd Couple’

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group will present a female version of the Broadway play that became a television series: "The Odd Couple."

"Remember Oscar and Felix from ‘The Odd Couple,’" the theater group asked in a release.  "Well, Now meet Olive and Florence, their female counterparts.  Olive (played by Sheila McCann Morrison) and Florence (portrayed by Sophia Holder . . . ) explore the emotions and motivations more deeply than Neil Simon’s original classic comedy."

The play is directed by Liz Howard and includes the following cast: 

Mickey (Barbara Adams), Vera (Dale Watson), Renee (Larissa Banting), Sylvie (Susan Hollis), and the Spanish brothers, Manolo (Joseph Loveday) and Jesus Costazuela (Antony Mimzeck).

Randy Gritz is the producer. The play will be performed at the Blanche Brown Theatre in Bello Horizonte, Escazu Friday and Saturday 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10-11, 17-18, 24-25 and Sunday 2:30 p.m. Oct 12, 19, 26

For reservations call: 289-3910   Tickets are: C2,500 for adults and C1,000 for students. 

Museum has week
for senior citizens

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional has a weeklong party for senior citizens this week at the museum.

The event is the II Feria Nacional del Adulto Mayor, which starts today and runs until Sunday. The event is sponsored by the Consejo Nacional de la Persona Adulta Mayor.

The museum promises dancing, discussions about health and nutrition, special presentations and 24 information stands helpful to seniors.

Today is the International Day of Seniors, which is why the event starts today. Entry is free for everyone today. For the remaining days, seniors can enter free but others have to pay 500 colons, some $1.25.

An opening ceremony today will include a number of dignitaries and possibly President Abel Pacheco, himself a senior citizen. The museum is just east of the downtown and the Plaza de la Democracia.

Dividends may gets
special tax rates

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dividends paid by foreign companies to U.S. taxpayers may qualify for recently reduced tax rates, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service have announced.

Treasury and the IRS have issued a notice covering the taxation of dividends paid by foreign corporations under the U.S. law known as the "Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003," according to a Treasury news release issued Monday.

The agencies have concluded that foreign dividends are subject to reduced tax rates if the firms are based in one of 55 countries that have a tax treaty with the United States and if the firms are eligible for the benefits of the tax treaty. Treasury and the IRS are working on further guidance regarding the eligibility requirements for such firms, according to the news release.

Dividends paid by a foreign corporation also may qualify for the reduced tax rates under an alternative test based on whether the stock of the corporation is "readily tradable on an established U.S. securities market," Treasury said, adding that it planned to issue guidance on this alternative test shortly.

Church may help
negotiate releases

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia's Roman Catholic Church has agreed to help the government in its efforts to secure the release of seven foreign tourists kidnapped last month by leftist rebels. 

A church leader, Dario Echeverry, was quoted Tuesday as saying negotiators want the kidnappers to get in direct contact with them in order to avoid a military solution to the situation. 

Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army, Monday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. 

The group known as the ELN did not specify demands for the release of the hostages but warned that an ongoing military search operation is putting their lives in jeopardy.

Eight tourists were seized Sept. 12 near an archeological site in northern Colombia. One of them, a British citizen, later escaped. 

Security guard held
for taking guns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A security company said that one of its own guards stuck up a companion and took guns and radios. The incident happened a few minutes after midnight Tuesday.

A representative of the firm Corporación González  y Asociados said that the 23-year-old suspect, identified by the last names of López Cordero, had been on the job only a week. The firm said the man took four handguns and radios.

Police located the man about four hours later in Alajuelita where he was detained.
 

Smoking still permitted

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican lawmakers have rejected a proposal that would have eliminated smoking in public places. Lawmakers who are members of the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales decided they would prefer a slower effort to eliminate the use of tabacco.
 

Photo by Clay Kemper 
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Uribe vows that Colombia will respect rights
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire servies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Tuesday says his government will remain open to international human rights groups, though it reserves the right to criticize their findings. 

The Colombian leader, who met Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, ignited a controversy three weeks ago when he suggested that some human rights critics of his government were terrorist sympathizers. 

Uribe came under blistering criticism from major human rights groups after comments at a military ceremony in Bogota Sept. 8 in which he suggested that some human rights advocates operating in Colombia were acting "in the service of terrorism."

Though the Colombian leader later softened his remarks, he came under attack by rights organizations, including Amnesty International, which said the original comments could be seen as a "green light" for extremist attacks on human rights workers.

The issue figured at a meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Uribe, who came to Washington after giving Colombia's policy address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday morning.

At a joint press appearance, Powell said he congratulated the Colombian president for the U.N. message, which he said underscored his "clear commitment" to upholding human rights as he prosecutes the a war against "terrorists and drug lords."

"We did talk about this, and I think his presentation to the United Nations this morning put that in stark contrast," he said. "I'm convinced that he's committed to the highest standards of human rights and that's what he said in his speech. That's the way I've seen him operate in the time that we've worked together."

Uribe, for his part, said he hopes to be seen as the leader of a government that overcame terrorism transparently and with the observance of human rights. 

He said Colombia has been and will remain open to every non-governmental organization, but also said his government has a right to rebut its critics.

"We have to do our best in order to solve these problems. There are other reports of other NGO's. We disagree with the reports, and we have to express our disagreement publicly," he said. "We won't close their space in Colombia. But we'll reserve our right to express openly our disagreement." NGOs is a short form of non-government organization.

Earlier, in his U.N. speech, Uribe said his government has dramatically reduced killings and kidnappings related to the country's long-running civil conflict and also cut illegal drug crops by 70 percent. 

He said Colombia has been able to preserve a vigorous democracy despite the "many tragedies" it faces including an unacceptable level of violence.

Powell said his talks with Uribe covered the kidnapping earlier this month of several foreign backpackers by leftwing guerrillas in Colombia and said he is "confident" authorities are doing everything they can to secure their release.

Powell said he is pleased by the resumption of U.S.-supported drug interdiction flights over Colombia, and said he thanked Uribe for the so-called "Article 98" agreement reached last week exempting U.S. military personnel operating in Colombia from jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Under an act of Congress, a failure to enter into the accord with Washington would have meant a sizeable cut in U.S. aid to Colombia for the coming year.


 
Serious problems reported in foreign drug imports 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. government is stepping up enforcement against mail shipments of foreign drugs to U.S. consumers and warning that such shipments often contain unapproved or counterfeit drugs that could pose serious safety problems.

In a news release, the Food and Drug Administration reported that nearly 90 percent of the imported mail-order drugs stopped at the borders during a special crackdown were found to be potentially dangerous.

FDA and Customs agents collected 1,153 imported drugs and found 1,019 to be illegal. The confiscated shipments included drugs that have been withdrawn from the U.S. market, animal drugs never approved for human use, counterfeit 

drugs, drugs with potentially dangerous side effects, and drugs that require initial screening and close monitoring of the patient, the FDA said.

Of the drugs collected during the investigation, 15.8 percent entered the United States from Canada, 14.3 percent from India, 13.8 percent from Thailand and 8 percent from the Philippines, the agency reported.

The FDA said that it planned to use its resources more strategically to focus on the foreign sources of illegal, unsafe imported drugs and that it would work to identify relevant shipping patterns so that it could target future shipments and sources. 

The agency said it would also continue efforts to educate the U.S. public about the dangers of drugs received through "illegal, poorly regulated, and potentially unsafe" foreign channels.


 
Californians again have to vote on racial rules
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the third time in the last decade, Californians will vote on a ballot question involving race and identity. California voters ended race-conscious decision making in state education, employment, and contracting with the controversial proposition 209. Since then, the state hasn't been able to use race and ethnicity data, but it's been keeping track of it anyway. Now supporters of a new ballot initiative say it's time to end that practice, too.

It's a very personal sense of harm that drives Ward Connerly to want to stop California from collecting racial data. Although he claims African American, Choctaw Indian, French and Irish ancestry, the Los Angeles  businessman is often identified simply as black. Connerly says he's been pigeonholed. And he wants it to stop. 

"I have lived with this issue for 64 years, and I can't ever think of a circumstance in which it was good that my government was asking me to identify with a group of people, most of whom I've never even met in my life," he said. "I've never understood the good in that."

Citing the need for racial privacy, Ward Connerly is the major backer of Prop. 54. He successfully campaigned to eliminate affirmative action in California in 1996 with Proposition 209. Although ethnic background may not be considered when someone applies for a job with the state of California, the application form nevertheless includes a question about ethnicity. There are eight choices. 

For the University of California, there are 14, and there are 27 on applications for the state's other college system, California State University. More and more people like attorney Kevin Nguyen are refusing to choose any of the racial categories on state forms. 

"I don't check 'em, but if someone wants to eyeball me and guess my race, it's offensive, but that's what's currently happening," said Nguyen.

People are also selecting more than one box. In the last census, more than a million Californians claimed multiethnic backgrounds, the most in the country.

State officials do use the information. California educators compile reports of how different ethnic groups do on standardized tests and send them to the federal government as part of national programs. State officials would continue to do so in order to keep federal money, and to comply with federal law. But they couldn't use the information or state dollars for programs to reduce the performance gaps in classrooms.

That would be fine with Martha Montelongo, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She is the first in her family to finish college. Now she has two teenagers in public schools. She supports Prop 54 because she says educators use race and ethnicity to hold children back.

"They say these Hispanics, they have a different cultural attitude towards education," said Ms. Montelongo. "That's a myth. Or that Hispanic parents aren't educated as a general rule. That's a myth. These are stereotypes and quotas or ethnic identification. Boxes help to perpetuate those myths."

But there are documented disparities among ethnic groups, even if the differences are due more to social and economic factors than to ethnicity. Spokesman Rick Miller says the Department of Education sees that clearly among the high school students who take the courses required for admission to state colleges.

"58 percent of Asian American high school graduates were eligible for admission, only 40 percent of white students, 25% of our African American, and 22% of our Latino graduates," he explained. "This is a significant difference between these different groups and we need to make sure all our kids are becoming eligible. . . ."

Medical professionals are also concerned that their work could be restricted by Proposition 54. Dr. Carmen Nevarez, who works at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, compares the measure to an information ban. 

"The way science works is you compare one group to another," said Dr. Nevarez. "Race and ethnicity very much help to look at trends in disease, look at trends in prevention and without that piece of information there are lots of things that we wouldn't know."

Here's an example: using lots of different data — auto registration and drivers' licenses, birth and death records, voluntary surveys — doctors at the University of California concluded that Vietnamese women are particularly at risk for cervical cancer. They were then able to get a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control to educate Vietnamese women about that risk, with meetings and TV ads. 

"Vietnamese women, they really are a little shy and afraid that they don't really want to see the doctor and that's the problem," said Sara Nguyen.

Ms. Nguyen is in her 30s; she came here from Vietnam a dozen years ago. A few months ago she didn't even know what a Pap smear was. 

"I did come to ... the doctor's office to take the Pap smear, and I am so happy because I am sure that I don't have any problems with uterus cancer," she said. 

Public health officials say without the information gathered from state forms, they won't be able to reach people like Sara Nguyen. 

But racial privacy advocates say that data will still be available for medical research. It's possible the courts or the legislature will have to step in and clarify the initiative if it passes.

Proposition 54 could also affect police efforts to compile racial profiling data. Five years ago Mexican-American attorney Curtis Rodriguez saw the highway patrol pull over a lot of cars on Pacheco Pass, near San Jose.

"And it occurred to us that they looked to be all Mexicans or Hispanics and we thought this was outrageous because it looked to us as if they were just scooping up every Latino they could and just searching them," said Rodriguez.

Then Rodriguez himself was stopped, and he sued on behalf of all Latino drivers. Publicity from his class action suit spurred the California Highway Patrol to voluntarily keep statistics about its traffic stops, to ensure that its officers did not single out any specific group. 

But if the initiative passes, law enforcement agencies will be prohibited from doing that without a court order. Prop 54 supporter Ward Connerly says that, with the largest multiethnic population in the country, California doesn't need to keep track of racial categories anymore.

"Instinctively now, I think, most people don't believe in them," said Connerly. "We have created a culture of colorblindness whether they like it or not."

But attorney Curtis Rodriguez doesn't agree. 

"Eventually that may be the case but that's not the case now," he said. "There are you know a lot of mixed ethnicities but that is far from saying that there aren't identifiable groups because there definitely are."

Support for the measure was high this summer but has dropped as it's gotten more publicity. The most recent survey found support and opposition evenly divided, at about 40 percent each. 

No matter what the outcome, it's doubtful this will be the last statewide debate on the issue. Backers of proposition 54 including Ward Connerly say they will continue to promote other ways to keep race out of California decision-making. 


 
 
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