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(506) 223-1327              Published Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 196           E-mail us   
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License plate changes pushed as key to fight crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's chief investigator wants the country to stop issuing temporary paper license plates and issue metal plates as soon as the vehicle is registered. In addition, he wants motorcycles to have a front and back plate instead of just one in the rear.

The investigator is Jorge Rojas Vargas, who last week urged the transport ministry to crack down on tinted vehicle windshields. The week before he said that his Judicial Investigating Organization just did not have the resources or personnel to handle the wave of crimes the country is experiencing.

The Registo Nacional issues the license plates, and there frequently are long delays. Rojas wrote to Laura Chinchilla, the nation's vice president because she also is minister of Justicia y Gracia, the agency in which the Registo is located.

The use of paper license plates has been going on for years, but Rojas called the requested change an urgent necessity. The Registro is known for being inefficient.
Paper license plates are forged easily, and even when they are authentic, they are hard to read.
For the same reason, Rojas wants two plates on motorcycles. He said the additional front plate would aid in the identification of vehicles used in robberies and other crimes.

Rojas said these two changes would improve the fight against crime and improve citizen security.

Motorcycles are a preferred vehicle for making a quick contact with a victim. Crooks ride double and the passenger uses a gun to threaten pedestrians, or in the case of hired killers, to shoot the victim.

However, in the case of motorcycles and also cars with tinted windows but no plates, the vehicle is either stolen or simply not registered.

Rojas said Sept. 23 that there are some 400 street robberies a month just in San José and nearly 2,300 already this year. The country also is experiencing a wave of home invasions, including one Tuesday in San Francisco de Dos Ríos where minors were tied up by intruders.

Arias gives unusual TV talk as no vote takes lead
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez told Costa Ricans Tuesday night that the referendum Sunday was the only chance they would have to enter into a trade agreement with the United States, the largest marketplace in the world.

But he also promised to dump the treaty if after six months it appears that the country does not like the deal.

Our readers sound off HERE!

Arias made an unusual mid-week appearance on San José television stations with the so-called Cadena Nacional. The speech also was being carried on radio. He did so as private polls and some polls commissioned by news outlets were showing those who would vote against the treaty being slightly more than those who would vote for it.

In the brief 8 p.m. talk, Arias said "But if we reject it, we can never again enter. The door will be closed and with it a universe of opportunities. This Sunday let's vote for our future. . . . let's vote for yes."

Arias has made no secret of his support for the measure, however he was sidelined by a damaged Achilles tendon for a month. Lately he has been making vote-getting stops at major industries and at community meetings.

Arias pointed out what he said were advantages for classes of citizens from housewives who will pay less for food to students whose schools will pay less for musical instruments, soccer balls or texts.

The treaty represents a significantly greater investment from external sources, more resources
for the government and money to build more houses and to award more and better pensions, to put more police on the streets and to pay better salaries to teachers and professors and to fix more streets, he said.

He said that approving the treaty would not put at risk any aspect of the social politics that the country has inherited from José Figueres Ferrer and Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia, the two principal designers of the modern Costa Rican state.

He said the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social would not be put at risk, that the medicines will continue being free. He noted that the central government has agreed to pay its debt of some 185 billion colons ($356 million) to the Caja that has been hanging for years. From this, he said some 150 community health clinics would be built.

The treaty, he said, would not put at risk either the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad telecommunications agency or the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, not the public universities and not any other institution that exists today in the country.

Opponents of the treaty, of course, disagree with Arias on every point, although there was not rebuttal to the president. The nation has had available a series of debates on the topic, although Arias did not debate.

The talk was a surprise, coming with only a few hours notice from Casa Presidencial. However, presidential aides did not explain why Arias chose to talk on a Tuesday night.

Until now the polls all along have showed that more persons favor the treaty than oppose it. But several current soundings of public opinion show the no vote a point or two ahead of the yes vote, and the election continuing to be a statistical dead heat.

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Stagno tells U.N. to work
for military spending cuts

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Costa Rican foreign minister Tuesday urged leaders attending the U.N. General Assembly’s annual high-level debate to work for cuts in military spending to fund development objectives.

“Multilateralism is not built on tests of strength,” the minister, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, declared.

He cited statistics compiled by the Millennium Project which estimated that if the world spent one tenth of its current expenditures on military spending — some $1.2 trillion — “we would have met the targets for 2006 for all the Millennium Development Goals in all countries.” The goals are time-bound targets for addressing poverty and other social ills.

“Security does not come from multiplying weapons. History has already proven this too many times,” he said. “Security comes from remedying injustice, easing shortages, creating opportunities so that we can have collective prosperity on par with collective security.”

He cited Article 26 of the United Nations Charter, which calls for promoting “the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources” and said it was a “dead letter” that should be brought to life.

Stagno said the U.N. must be able to learn from its mistakes. “We do a disservice to the credibility and effectiveness of this organization if every time we experience a difficult or inconvenient situation we simply produce a report for the archives,” he said.

Nicolás Maduro Moros, Venezuela’s minister for foreign affairs, urged an overhaul of the U.N. to enable it to better serve the world’s people.

The creation of a “multipolar world of balance without imperialistic hegemony is urgent, and it is possible,” he said. “This organization has to be transformed. It has to rebuild itself to be the faithful instrument of a multipolar world,” he added.

The foreign minister of Uruguay, Reinaldo Gargano, urged specific measures to help developing countries, including the elimination of subsidies, to allow them to compete fairly on the international market. “Developing countries don’t need aid so much as free access to markets,” he declared.

No detention for police trio
suspects of street robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The three police officers who were apprehended after a street robbery and chase are not in prison.

The Poder Judicial said Tuesday that the three men were set free on the condition that they maintain a fixed place of residence and report to the prosecutor every 15 days.

The men were identified by the last names of Gómez Garray, Porras Quirós and Castrillo Fajardo. They were caught by other members of the Fuerza Pública after a man, identified by the Poder Judicial by the last names of Núñez Castro, said he was thrown to the sidewalk, threatened with a gun and robbed of money and his backpack about 2 a.m. Monday. The attack happened in the downtown.

Police officials said that the trio, who were enjoying a day off Monday, would continue on the force until the case is resolved.

Police officers said they recovered a backpack from the car in which the suspects were riding. In that bag they found evidence crack cocaine, they reported. Spanish-language newspapers  characterized Núñez Castro as a drug dealer being chastised by police.

Tourism travel market
in Costa Rica this year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 135 companies will participate in the Centroamérica Travel Market Oct. 11 to 13 in Cariari Country Club. Organizers said they expected tourism buyers from 22 countries to attend.

The travel market is an annual event and this is the fourth edition. The national tourism ministries and the chambers of tourism of the Central American nations organize the event. The location rotates among the seven nations that participate.

Among the goals is to promote Central America in general as a tourist destination. The event is not open to the public.

Diversity lottery applications
can be submitted at noon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The application period for the U.S. diversity lottery begins at noon today and ends Dec. 2.

This is the program where residents of countries under-represented in U.S. immigration can apply for and sometimes receive a visa. The U.S. provides up to 55,000 such visas a year via the lottery.

Submission to the program is by Internet and digital photos are required.  The principal applicant who wins also will get visas for a spouse and minor children. The program requires applicants to be the equivalent of a high school graduate or have worked two years in a job that requires two years training.

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si for progress
Readers have their turn commenting on trade treaty vote
We should have mentioned
treaty is fascist government

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

OUCH!!!! Your article in today's paper was quite bad. You state your paper doesn't endorse either side, but then give five reasons for "sí" and five really lame statements for "no." Here are five reasons you could have put and they would be more accurate:

    1     Two main groups favor TLC — government and the richer business people. Politicians will stand to get bribes from huge corporations in order to pass corporate-oriented laws.

    2     Arias, having won a close election, is working very hard to get a “Si” vote. Does he owe that to the U.S. machinery for assisting him in his victory?

    3     It is a fact the “Sí” campaign has a vast amount of money. It should be taken as a clue as to what is coming should TLC pass. It has been discovered huge sums have come from the U.S. pharmaceutical corporations.

    4     The Caribbean Basin Initiative has about two years remaining at which time it can be renegotiated.

    5     Costa Rica needs U.S. corporate investments.


    1     The TLC is not a democracy, but rather a corporatist (more correctly called fascist) form of governance. Legislators in Costa Rica are in the process of changing 13 laws in order to better suit corporations, not Ticos.

    2     Exporters to the U.S. will gain little that the Caribbean Basin Initiative doesn't already give them.

    3     Corporations will not give Ticos the right to vote on changes like the Costa Rican democracy has in this referendum. This may be the last time Ticos have the opportunity to voice their opinion on matters that will affect their economy and lifestyle.

    4     U.S. corporations will come into Costa Rica and use what Tico tax dollars have already built, then charge Ticos for services. Example, the telecommunications companies will come in and use existing networks, not build new ones. Where is the investment on their part?

    5     The major export of Costa Rica, tourism, may be hurt by damages that will occur to the environment. Tourists come to Costa Rica to experience what nature has built. They can go to Florida in the U.S. to see concrete structures.

Dennis Kaiser
Puerto Jiménez

We are slanting story
and demean the no side

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

By "cloaking their opposition in the mantle of patriotism," the opponents have waged a very effective and emotional campaign. . . .

You write like an American journalist — in that you are putting spin into your writing and slanting your viewers, even while stating that you are not taking sides. When you write "cloaking their opposition in the mantle of patriotism," you are perverting the truth.

How do you know that these people are "cloaking" and not actually proud of their country and doing what they feel is best for it? You demean them by your writing.

If you are going to be impartial, then be it. Don't try to influence your readers with reports that are put through the spin cycle and pass off as real news.

Dennis Peterson
Santa Monica, California

Meat and potatoes left out

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Today's article presenting the opposing side of CAFTA makes no mention of the meat & potatoes issues —  loss of sovereignty, pharmaceuticals, environment, just for beginners. It borders upon being an insult to the intelligence of your readers.

Bill Read
San Pedro

We are just insulated
in the expat community

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I find it very interesting that each time A.M. Costa Rica speaks about the TLC, the terms "socialists, Communists, and anarchists" is used to categorize the opponents of the treaty.

Have any of you actually gone out and interviewed any common people or Tico small business owners to see what their thoughts are on the impacts of this treaty?

For the last four years I have done that with every Tico business that I have patronized, and I try to give my money to only Tico-owned businesses. What I have heard is that there is great distrust of the American government doing anything that will not benefit the U.S. more than Costa Rica.

And, looking at what has not happened in Mexico as a result of NAFTA, it is understandable why they have so many misgivings. Maybe your eyes would be opened if you asked some Ticos and Ticas questions instead of insulating yourselves within the expat communities.
Patricia Elliott
Michigan City, Indiana
True or not, the terms
are value-laden opinions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The front page piece is interesting. While the article begins stating that A.M. Costa Rica will not take an editorial stand on the free trade agreement (I thought "Well the hell not?!?"),
You state that "staffers believe that there are..."
In the rest of the article, those positive and negative positions are stated. Re: the cons, terms like "socialists, Communists, anarchists, naive and mantel" are used.
While all of those things may or may not be true, they are clearly heavily value-laden and opinion-expressing terms.
They make it very clear that the writer is pro treaty. The rest of the piece does not use similar heavy terms to express the pro side/opinion.
Do you truly believe that your readers will not take the article as an editorial position in favor of the treaty ?!?
As you state, the issues are complicated. But everyone has an opinion about the matter, regardless of their understanding of the complicated issues.
You — as a researcher and fairly smart dude — indubitably know more than 95 percent of the population, regardless of their opinion.
Why not just come out and say you're pro-treaty? I still don't understand why you won't take an editorial stance, but instead apparently prefer to use the "mantle" of "staffers" to get your point across?

Is it for legal reasons? Are you wanting to avoid any official CR gov flack, and all that that might imply?
I'm curious as hell.
Jim Shapiro
Carlsbad California
and Costa Rica

Country's future hanging
by thin thread of emotion

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your accurate summary of the issues and the dynamics taking place in preparation for next Sunday's national referendum on ratifying or not the CAFTA treaty, citing five reasons why it will pass and five reasons why it won't, reveals how the country's future is dangling by a frighteningly thin thread.
We must remember that ratification or not of this treaty is essentially a determination of the course the country wants to takes into its economic future. And to do that wisely, requires prudent looking into the crystal ball with much intelligence, knowledge and foresight.
But what is happening in reality in this referendum campaign?  Distortions, outright lies and other emotion laden arguments have replaced all the elements of sound reasoning  to sway the "people's" minds.
Well that might be partly true, some would argue, but this is "participative" democracy in it's finest moment; it's letting the "people" decide their future. Fortunately for the country, the participative part is true, but it is unfortunate for the country that the designated ratifiers, the congress, got bogged down in a self-serving political interests stalemate that left no option other than have the "people" decide in a referendum.
The frightening part is that the "people," enshrouded only by emotional cloaks, do not have the knowledge or foresight to deal in a calm, collected and reasoning way with a very complex issue like what is the model that will provide the most economic well-being for the country. The promoters of both sides, Sí and No, knowing what it takes to influence the minds of the "people" use necessarily demagoguery. That explains why of the 10 reasons cited, none deal with economic common sense.
Walter Fila
Cuidad Colón

And one letter not on treaty
Similar bad things happen
in every country of world

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re: Garland Baker's article: Expats here and even writers of articles for the widely read definitely create sensationalism and controversy when articles are written about the various facets of Costa Rica which are prone to corruption and misuse,i.e., the National Registro or "crooked attorneys" or the "horrible mess" that immigration is in.

But no one seems to mention the horrible things that are comparable in every country in the world:  the seizures by the IRS without rhyme or reason, the U.S. Embassy's gross mishandling of Costa Rican citizens (yes, in Costa Rica ), the fact that problems anywhere in the world can happen in the judicial system (attorneys with grudges can file lawsuits ad nauseum OR perhaps a disgruntled citizen can even find fault with the coffee at McDonald's and file a multimillion dollar lawsuit . . . and so on. )
Let's take a look at our own houses before we criticize others.   Criticism is great but maybe that is part of our problem. We criticize but we give nothing back. We pay virtually no taxes and yet we expect the system to run as efficiently as in the countries where almost 50 percent of our salaries were taxed. And if we take a look around, our criticisms are the very criticisms that Ticos themselves have of the system here.
Perhaps our criticism and skills (?) can be put to better use. perhaps in a constructive nature?
Randy Berg

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Gates in Colombia seeking to set up U.S. military base there
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States is considering setting up a military base in Colombia to replace the one in Manta, Ecuador, that the government there wants removed.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Colombia, the second stop on a five-nation visit to Latin America that began Tuesday morning in El Salvador. Talks are focusing on regional issues and the war in Iraq.

A senior official traveling with Gates calls Colombia a strategic partner in combating drug trafficking and international crime. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the United States wants to negotiate a free trade agreement with Colombia, in part to provide the country with more tax revenues so it can finance more of its own defense needs.

The U.S. Congress wants to reduce military aid to Colombia in the coming years.

The official says Colombia has made good progress during the last five years in establishing security and improving government services, but he says the struggle is not over to, in his words, take back the country from narco-terrorists. Gates will meet with Colombia's top leaders today, and the official says they may also discuss the possibility of establishing a small U.S. military base in Colombia, to replace one at Manta in Ecuador that that country's government wants removed.

The base is primarily used for anti-drug overflights of Colombia. The Ecuadorian government of Rafael Correa 
wants U.S. to stop using the Eloy Alfaro Air Base, where the United States has pursued the anti-drug war since 1999.

The United States has a significant number of troops already in Colombia in support of the local military. The operations are being called the unknown war. Under Plan Colombia, the United States has based at least 800 troops in the country and 600 more persons working for private contractors. Three of the contracted individuals have been captured by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia, which is seeking to swap them for captured rebels.

The trio were involved in anti-narcotics efforts when their plane went down more than four years ago.

Tuesday in El Salvador, the secretary discussed the Iraq war and regional issues with President Antonio Saca and other officials. Gates thanked El Salvador for its continuing support for the coalition in Iraq, including the presence of 280 Salvadoran troops.

"Obviously, we would like to have the continued assistance of the Salvadoran contingent in Iraq in the future," said Gates. "This is essentially a decision that is up to the government of El Salvador. I would say that the government of President Saca has been very forward-leaning in this regard. He has told me that El Salvador will continue to play its part in helping us as long as necessary. But at the end of the day it's a decision that must be made by the Salvadorans."

After his talks here in Colombia today, Gates will travel on to Chile, Peru and Suriname.

Ecuador begins along path that was blazed by Hugo Chávez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa is promising to move quickly on government reforms following Sunday's vote that apparently gave his supporters a majority in a special assembly to rewrite the country's constitution.

Election officials said it may take weeks for a final tally of voting for the constitutional assembly, but Correa has already declared victory.

He said Monday he expects his Alianza party to secure at least 80 seats in the 130-member assembly that will convene at the end of the month. He also said he will ask the assembly to dissolve Congress and call elections for a new body that he says will better represent the people's interests.

The 44-year-old former finance minister has said the assembly is needed because Ecuador's congress has repeatedly blocked his proposals, such as plans to increase social spending, strengthen the government's control over natural resources and reform property rights.

Rafael Quintero of Central University in Quito says Sunday's vote shows Correa's agenda for sweeping changes within the government has a wide popular appeal. He says Ecuadorians are tired of being treated by the government as subjects and not as citizens with full rights.

Correa campaigned on a promise to break the hold of Ecuador's political parties, which he blames for decades of
government corruption and instability. He says he hopes the
 new constitution will shift power away from Ecuador's political elite and pave the way for socialism.

To that end, Quintero says Correa's party has been recruiting people from outside government for congress and the new assembly. He says many of those seeking to join the constitutional assembly have affiliation with labor unions, social groups, human rights organizations and farmers groups.

The reform process in Ecuador is similar to one taken by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, who called for a constitutional assembly shortly after he took office in 1999. Chávez has been a key supporter since Correa assumed the post in January.

Quintero says the constitutional process in Ecuador is not inspired by Venezuela or any other Latin American government. He says the demand for change partly stems from a major protest by indigenous groups in Ecuador in 1990, and has been brewing since then.

He says there is a strong feeling that that the changes Ecuador's people have been demanding for many years now have an opportunity to become public policy.

Critics accuse Correa of seeking to secure his hold on power, and say his proposed economic reforms may hurt the nation's business sector.

The special assembly is scheduled to meet for at least six months to draft a new constitution that must be approved in a popular referendum.

U.S. and Venezuelan officials hold rare discussion at the United Nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Senior officials from Venezuela and the United States have held rare talks aimed at improving relations and laying the groundwork for a possible visit to Caracas by a top U.S. diplomat.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. envoy to Latin America, met Monday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement that the two officials held "very cordial" talks, with Shannon expressing interest in visiting Caracas.

The statement said the two also discussed efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to help negotiate the release of Colombian rebel-held hostages, including three Americans.
The U.S. and Venezuela typically have little diplomatic contact. Washington has accused Chávez of being a destabilizing force in the region, and Chávez is a fierce critic of the U.S.

Last month, Chávez suggested that American lawmakers could help negotiate the release of the hostages in Colombia. They are being held by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia,

He made the comment after meeting in Caracas with the families of three Americans held captive since 2003. The U.S. State Department contractors were abducted after their plane was shot down during an anti-drug mission.

The FARC 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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