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(506) 223-1327      Published Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 198      E-mail us    
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Ticos seem to be tired of grappling with corruption
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans seem to have become deaf to allegations of corruption even as hemispheric officials say that ending this type of wrongdoing is vital to development.

A procession of corruption allegations, beginning with the Fischel scandal began to grab headlines in April 2004. Eventually two ex-presidents were ensnared in scandal allegations and a third ex-president declined to return to Costa Rica to answer questions.

Since then, scandal after scandal has occupied the headlines of the Spanish-language newspapers, but reporters complain that their readerships seem to have lost interest.

The overkill comes, in part, because presidents have changed. And there are scandals involving events and decisions made during the Abel Pacheco administration. There have been so many separate scandals that the citizenry appears to be jaded.

There also is the seamy backdrop of obvious local drug sales, international drug trafficking and money landering, all of which need an official blind eye.

A Universidad de Costa Rica survey reported last month that about half the population thinks that corruption will be worse in five years. Only about 16 percent think that corruption will be less. The government and the legislature got most of the blame.

The survey, done by the Escuela de Matemática, is the first to put a price on corruption. It estimated that Costa Ricans paid $145 million in bribes over the last five years. The bribes represent 450,000 separate acts, according to Dr. Jorge Poltronieri Vargas, coordinator of the Proyecto de Investigación Estructuras de la Opinión Pública, who directed the survey.

Seeking bribes is only one form of official corruption. Recent scandals suggest that public officials and public employees have benefited from programs designed to help the poor. Funds have simply vanished. There also has been apparent collusion in thefts from state banks involving employees. There have been contracts let without bidding, and sexual harassment allegations have even reached the Asamblea Legislativa.  Guns have been stolen from police stations, and in one recent case police are accused of stealing cocaine from a drug courier.

This last case is unusual and made news because the drug traffickers contacted the Cahuita police delegación, threatened the officers, fired bullets into the building there and demanded the drugs be returned.

Even the person who is supposed to stop financial scandals, Alex Solís, the contralor de la República, was fired when lawmakers determined he had faked names on legal papers in his notary practice.

And even the new head of the Fuerza Pública is under investigation now because an Alajuela man claimed he made a three-month series of threatening telephone calls from cellulars issued by the security ministry.

The university survey listed other common forms of corruption: Other types of day-to-day bribes that were counted included payments to physicians to be declared incapacitated, payments to redeem cars from the judicial depository, to avoid traffic tickets or even to get the television cable hooked up, said the professor.

A lot of public dismay comes because criminal cases do not seem to be resolved. The cases against former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier have dragged on with no apparent developments since October 2004 when Francisco Dall'Anese. the chief prosecutor, had both men jailed. They are out now and Rodríguez even has written a book saying how he has been persecuted.

But even cases that attract fewer headlines are slow to move through the courts, if ever. The scandals seem to rise to the surface, attract public attention and then vanish from sight.

Those who seek out and report incidents of corruption are concerned by the jaded public mood because public outrage is considered a key factor in change. Some point out that extensive corruption can undermine democracy as it did in Venezuela, paving the way for populist Hugo Chávez.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund made a point of blaming corruption for slowing national development during the groups' meeting in Singapore last month. This has been a recurring theme in development circles. And international organizations are trying to come to grips with their own corruption that has endured for years.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 198

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Caribbean dock situation
might end up in court

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Government lawyers were expected to initiate a court action Wednesday night or today that would declare a job action by Limón dock workers to be illegal.

The workers on the Limón dock are engaging in a continuation of the slowdown that began two weeks ago. They want the government to promise it will not lease out the Caribbean docks to private firms as a concession.

The Consejo de Gobierno Wednesday asked the Ministerio de Trabajo to look into existing laws to see if the slowdown could be considered illegal. If so, the government could fire those who are engaged in the job action.

Fuerza Pública officers took over the docks last week. The main dock at Moín seems to be operating normally. However, the dock in Limón Centro is still operating slowly.

Agricultural producers say they have lost $20 million due to the workers' job action.

Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the minister of the Presidencia, was even talking about importing foreign workers who know how to run docks when he spoke with reporters after the cabinet meeting.

Marco Vargas, minister of Coordinación Interinstitucional, said that officials tried to meet with the dock workers union representatives Tuesday but they did not show up at a scheduled session. He said that the union by its actions usually sets the agenda but that now is the time for the government to set the agenda.

Free trade foes raise
specter of arms plants

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States have rallied around the idea that the pact would force Costa Rica to accept arms and munitions factories, something that rubs Costa Ricans the wrong way.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana has focused on Remec, Inc. S.A., which operates in the Zona Franca Metropolitana, Heredia, as an existing arms manufacturer.

Alberto Salom, one of the party's lawmakers said that Remec has been making components for missiles since 1998 and that the company's lawyer is close to the Arias administration.
President Óscar Arias condemns the arms trade in international forums while he pushes the approval of the free trade treaty that would favor the importations of war materials and the possible manufacture of arms, said the party's news release.

Óscar López, a member of the Asamblea Legislative affiliated with the Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión, launched his own broadside. He offered as proof the fact that Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, has formed a Costa Rican company, Raytheon S.A., purchased land near Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula and advertised in the official La Gaceta to obtain protection for its trademarks.

Raytheon makes the Patriot anti-missile system, smart bombs and the Tomahawk cruise missile, he said, as he called for rejection of the trade treaty.

The company has not responded to a request for clarification on the land purchase.

Administration officials said that any arms manufacturing plants would be rejected on health grounds and that the president's Partido Liberación Nacional supports a bill to outlaw such industries here.

Meanwhile Arias Tuesday was branding as ridiculous a claim channeled through a Cuban newspaper that he was trying to remilitarize the country to silence those who oppose the free trade treaty.

The publication Granma published a Prensa Latina story that appears to have originated with treaty opponents in Costa Rica. Arias has been accompanied by a significant number of police at recent public events, and a small group of treaty opponents show up, too. The police keep them at a distance because they have been interrupting speakers.

Bruno Stagno, the foreign minister, said that it appears a strategy exists to damage the democratic image of this country. Arias has been critical of the Cuban dictatorship and has called for democracy for that country.
Liquid cooking gas price
will go down slightly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The price regulating agency approved a decrease of 9 colons per liter for liquid natural gas, which many families use for cooking. The price will go from 290 colons to 281 colons the day after the reduction is published in the La Gaceta official newspapers.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said the reduction was a result of lower international prices for hydrocarbons. Costa Ricans usually purchase their gas in 8.5- and 17.1-liter tanks, which are refillable.

Rains prompt declaration
of emergency for repairs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch has declared a state of emergency for  Palmares, San Ramón, Desamparados, Aserrí and Zarcero because of heavy rain suffered last month.

The declaration will allow the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias to get some 3.5 billion colons ($6.7 million) from the budgets of state agencies to do repair work.

Some 950 persons in 67 communities were directly affected by the heavy rains, flooding and landslides, according to commission estimates. Some 150 homes were flooded in Palamares, 40 in Desamparados, 30  in Aserrí and seven  in San Ramón.

Heredia biodiversity center
will be goal of Korean grant

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad in Heredia will sign an accord with the South Korean government Thursday for a $1 million grant to build a biodiversity center here.

The money will come from the Korean Institute for International Cooperation. The institute workers here will supply the know how and Korea will provide the technology for scientific research, according to an agreement reached in 2005.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 198

Costa Rica will get a letter
Press group says freedom has suffered serious setbacks

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association wound up its 62nd General Assembly Tuesday and concluded that the press in the last six months has suffered serious setbacks — with  journalists being the victims of murders, threats, attacks and all kinds of intimidation from both criminal groups and governments.

The five-day meeting, held at the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City, Mexico, to review the state of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere, also adopted 26 resolutions on — among other issues — violations of such freedom in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela, which will be sent to the respective governments.

Here are the conclusions of the organization:

Freedom of the press suffered several serious setbacks during the past six months. Nine journalists were killed, while death threats and attacks of all types escalated against dozens of others and against media outlets throughout the hemisphere.

Three journalists died in Venezuela, three in Colombia, two in Mexico and one in Guatemala. One reporter disappeared in Mexico during the period and others remained missing from earlier periods. The list of journalists reported dead or missing during the past 12 months grew to 15.

Gonzalo Marroquín, a publisher in Guataemala and chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and
Information, warned that these deaths demonstrate that “the efforts of various nations in the hemisphere have borne little fruit in the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists.” Marroquín said that such grave circumstances cry out for a coming together of all the pertinent elements of society “to defend press freedom in our countries.”

Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela emerged as the countries with the most hostile environments for journalists. In Cuba, for instance, the number of journalists sentenced to up to 27 years in prison rose to 26.

In Mexico, independent journalists are becoming an endangered species, especially in the areas along the border with the United States. (Since 1982, there have been 53 Mexican reporters and columnists killed.)  Journalists have been gagged and threatened, and drug traffickers have corrupted local, state and federal officials, as well as teachers, priests, taxi drivers, hotel workers and even some journalists. In March, the government established a special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against journalists. Already, it has received some 80 complaints.

Since 2000 alone, 27 journalists have been killed in Mexico and three more remain missing. Moreover, freedom of the press is restricted in various regions where local government officials maintain authoritative measures against independent journalists — applying political pressure and harassing them, sometimes legally and sometimes physically.

Journalism and freedom of expression are also increasingly endangered in Venezuela’s ever more restrictive legal and civic environment. The government is systematically undermining the ability to express oneself freely, and to receive and disseminate information by whatever means.

In other countries where the harshest penalties, including death, are less common than in the four most dangerous ones (Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela), there nevertheless has been an alarming increase during the past six months in the harassment of journalists and news media — physical and verbal — as well as subtle but effective intimidation.

A spreading trend across the hemisphere involves top government officials singling out dissenting journalists and media outlets for criticism as public nuisances. This was common among the military dictatorships of decades past, and much more understandable at a time when a clear goal was curtailment of all liberties, political and otherwise. It is difficult to understand why governments chosen in free and
fair elections would revert to such tactics that so severely restrict the freedom to develop an informed citizenry.
What Argentine journalist Joaquín Morales Solá wrote in the daily La Nación of Buenos Aires regarding the situation in his country is echoed elsewhere. There may not be any decrees or resolutions explicitly barring freedom of the press, he said, yet there is less and less freedom of expression and “rarely has there been such an asphyxiating climate since the restoration of democracy, almost 23 years ago.”

In countries with legitimately elected governments, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela, officials at the highest levels publicly focus on specific journalists or media outlets whose reports or opinions they dislike. They seem to forget that such branding of a journalist or media outlet as an “enemy” or “unelected opponent” has the potential to undermine the credibility of those so criticized and to encourage various levels of government to take action against these targets. That already is happening in these countries.

In Argentina, almost since assuming office three years ago, President Néstor Kirchner has used this tactic wherever he can — calling out opponents by names — professional, personal and otherwise — and turning one group of citizens against another.

The consequences include increased threats against the journalists and the media, and the emergence of ardent presidential supporters who assume license to punish, sometimes violently. Indeed, Morales Solá wrote, “Violent words precede violent acts.”

This is repeated in various degrees in Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela, where heads of state have publicly confronted their media critics in authoritative ways that suggest an inability to adjust to a functioning free press. In Bolivia, for example, President Evo Morales is creating his own media network, allegedly financed in part by the government in Venezuela.

The “war against terrorism” continues to claim parts of the free press among its victims. The U.S. government has detained a number of reporters in Iraq for long periods of time without charging them, and has criticized media outlets for revealing information that it considers too sensitive for public knowledge.

In more domestic U.S. matters, court actions have been brought against some journalists who have declined to disclose information that could lead to the identity of their sources. Six journalists were fined or locked up during the past year, some for up to 18 months.

Intimidation of journalists by governments and criminal organizations has spread like wildfire. In Colombia alone during the past six months, 45 journalists have been threatened. In Brazil, 20 employees of media outlets, including some journalists, were threatened with death, held hostage or beaten.

In various parts of that country, two newspapers were raided by police, one of which was burned and the other closed down. The courts censored one newspaper, seized a magazine, prohibited publication of a conversation between two politicians and forced two newspapers to publish lengthy texts as part of “right of reply” statutes. Two journalists were shot.

In addition, five Guatemalan journalists, four Paraguayans, three Peruvians and two Argentines received death threats. A reporter in Guatemala was shot, while shots were fired into the offices of two newspapers in Ecuador and one in Paraguay. Courts in Costa Rica, Venezuela and Uruguay issued rulings that curtailed press freedom. In Mexico, for the first time, violence moved into the newsroom. Four of them were the targets of shots or explosives.

The arbitrary distribution of government advertising remained a serious problem, especially in Argentina, where the government continued to use such public resources to reward its friends and punish its critics. In Chile, concern with the issue prompted the Congress to launch an investigation into how state advertising is distributed.

A.M. Costa Rica is a member of the organization.

Grecia electronics manufacturer will double production with new facility
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Panduit Corp., a Grecia electronics manufacturer with some 650 employees, said Tuesday that it would build a second structure to double production and bring the workforce up to about 1,000 by next year.

Company executives met Tuesday with President Óscar Arias Sánchez and made the announcement. They are
William Ernest, general manager in Costa Rica; Tom Donovan, company president; Barry Page, vice president, and John Caveney, chief executive officer.

The manfacturing facility has been in operation here since 1996.

The company makes all sorts of connectors and raceways for fiber optic and copper cables as well as other hardware.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 198

Bush goes to Arizona to sign law to provide money for fence
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President George Bush has signed legislation that provides roughly $1.2 billion for fencing and other enhanced security measures along the border with Mexico.

Illegal immigration is a highly emotional issue in the State of Arizona.  And so it came as no surprise the president signed the legislation there, surrounded by local officials.

"The bill I sign helps address one of the central issues facing all states, but particularly the state of Arizona, and that is illegal immigration," Bush said.  "I understand full well that illegal immigration puts pressure on the public schools and hospitals. It strains state and local budgets.  In some communities, it increases crime."

The White House had hoped for a wide-ranging immigration reform bill.  Instead, the U.S. Congress approved money to erect fencing in some of the most porous border areas and added it to legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security.

The measure also provides more money to hire extra border agents, develop technology, and build additional detention facilities for those caught entering the country illegally.
"It is what the people of this country want.  They want to know that we are modernizing the border so we can secure the border," the president added.

But even as he signed the measure into law, the president made clear he wants Congress to revisit the matter.  He said the nation needs comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a temporary-guest worker program.

"The funds that Congress has appropriated are critical for our efforts to secure this border and enforce our laws," he said.  "Yet we must also recognize that enforcement alone is not going to work."

But there are deep divides in Congress on just how to handle the immigration issue.  Many members of the president's own party in the House of Representatives oppose a guest-worker program.  In the Senate, there is more support for comprehensive reform.  But in recent debate, Democrat Ted Kennedy said Republican lawmakers do not have the will to take on anti-immigrant forces.

"The fence bill is a clear indication of the abdication of the Congress of the United States to deal responsibly with the whole challenge of immigration," said  Kennedy, adding that pushing money for the fence is only a campaign ploy. 

Rumsfeld says that nearly every problem here is international
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the countries of the Americas must work together to fight drug trafficking, gang violence and terrorism. The secretary was in Nicaragua for a conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas.

Rumsfeld and defense ministers from more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean countries focused on increased cooperation and stronger military ties to boost prosperity in the region.

"Almost every problem we face is a problem that cannot be solved by a single nation," said Rumsfeld. "Whether it's counternarcotics or gangs or hostage-taking or counterterrorism, all of these problems require very close cooperation among nations, many nations."

Rumsfeld said coordination is especially important in the war against drug trafficking.

For their part, Central American Defense ministers said they asked Rumsfeld for more U.S. aid in their fight against Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers. In the past several
years, drug violence has escalated in the region, and become more vicious in Mexico.

In his speech to the conference Rumsfeld said organized crime and narcotics traffickers are destabilizing forces in a part of the world that has worked too hard and suffered too much bloodshed to trade dictatorships and civil war for democracy and stability.

But he was optimistic in his assessment of the region, saying it made considerable progress the past 20 years in building prosperous societies.

The only note of discord was the issue of Venezuela's recent arms buildup. Rumsfeld said ministers from several nations expressed concern that some of the weapons arriving in Venezuela could end up in the hands of terrorist groups.

Venezuela's Defense Minister General Raul Baduel said Monday that his country's arms buildup is not aimed against any country, and is purely defensive.

The United States has banned the sale of arms to Venezuela and criticized the government's recent purchase of close to $3 billion worth of arms from Russia.

Brazil considers charges against two U.S. pilots who survived midair crash
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian authorities say prosecutors are considering manslaughter charges for two U.S. pilots whose executive jet collided with a commercial plane above the Amazon last week. Some 155 people died.

A judge in Brazil's Mato Grosso state this week ordered police to seize the men's passports.  The judge ordered the move while the investigation continues into the collision of the pilots' jet with a Gol Airlines 737.

The blow damaged a wing of the smaller plane, but it landed safely at an air force base.  The pilots of the executive jet were not injured, but were taken to Rio de Janeiro for medical tests.
Investigators later learned that the Gol airliner crashed in the Amazon jungle, killing everyone aboard.  Some media reports say the other plane may have been flying at the wrong altitude, in the Gol's flight path.

Emergency workers found several bodies at the crash site and were sending the remains to Brasilia for identification.
Workers also recovered the flight data and voice recorders and hope the devices will explain how the two planes, both equipped with the latest anti-collision technology, collided in mid-air.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration sent a team to Brazil to assist in the investigation.  The National Transportation Safety Board also was sending investigators to the South American country.

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