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(506) 223-1327              Published Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 198           E-mail us   
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Voters OK trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted 9 p.m. Sunday)
Costa Rica appears to have approved the free trade treaty with the United States.

In figured released by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones about 8:30 p.m. local time, the yes vote was 51.7 percent, some 606,985 votes, compared to 48.3
percent of 567,635 for rejection of the treaty.
The tribunal said that the votes represented 73.6 percent of the polling places and that it appeared that 69.8 percent of the electorate, some 1,193,339 persons, voted, enough to make the referendum valid. Some 40 percent was needed.

The result was a surprise because treaty supporters were in the minority in the latest public opinion polls.


Deal clears way for Ciudad Colón-Caldera highway
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry reached an agreement Thursday with the company that will build and run the San José-Caldera highway to the Pacific coast.

The deal had been stalled over technical and financial details. The agreement reached Thursday still has to be approved by the Contraloria de la República, the financial watchdog agency.

However, if the agreement gets the OK, work would start in six months. The project, when done, would cut the time and discomfort in driving between the capital and the Pacific coast.

News of this type has been announced before. The work was supposed to start in April.

The announcement Thursday said the cost of the project had increased to $230 million from the original $158 million.  An announcement from the  Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the price hike also includes improvements in drainage, guarantees in the durability of the pavement and more work on stabilizing slopes.

There has been no change in the toll now set at  $2.70 for a passenger car or the 25-year term during which the company will collect the toll to pay for the investment in completing the routes.

The highway has earned the reputation of being cursed because the central government has been trying to get the project going for years. Bridges have been installed for at least six years. The concessionaire, Autopistas del Sol S.A., has been fined $50,000 a day because work has not started. There was no word Thursday if the fines would be waived due to the new agreement.
The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones is involved in the agreement with the ministry. Autopista is a creation of two Spanish firms, a Costa Rican company and a Portuguese entity. The original contract was signed in March 2006.

In addition to the increase in the investment in the project, the addition to the contract will give the company six more months to do the work. The country also is backing amounts of minimum income, said the ministry.

Also a financial structure is being set up so that the company can easily obtain the money that is generated by the project, said the announcement.

The job is in three parts. The first enhances the stretch of road from La Sabana to Ciudad Colón, now called the Autopista Próspero Fernández. Much of this is now a four-lane divided highway but west of Santa Ana the road becomes two lane. This work, according to the ministry, will take about a year.

The big job is the Ciudad Colón-Orotina highway, some 39 kms. or about 24 miles. The estimated time of constrcution is two years, said the ministry.

The third part of the project is the enhancement of a 24-km. stretch from the Orotina traffic interchange to the Puerto de Caldera. This road now exists, and the upgrades are expected to take but six months, said the ministry.

Real estate developers and property owners have been frustrated by the slow pace of the highway construction. The new road is expected to give an economic boost to the central Pacific in the same way that the Puente La Amistad over the Río Tempisque did for the Nicoya Peninsula.


Treaty campaigns whip up enthusiasm for Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Supporters and opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States are gearing up to squeeze out that very last vote with gatherings and public displays in anticipation of the country's first referendum vote.

For example, a group of private employees are supposed to gather this morning at 11 o'clock in the center of La Uruca to sing the national anthem and sow their support for the democratic process.

The opponents had their big rally Sunday, but all over the country banners are popping up saying"my heart tells me to vote no." the slogan of their campaign. Polls show more persons will vote against the treaty than for it.

Our readers' opinions HERE!

Acción Ciudadana also is bombing Internet accounts with urgings to vote no. One message Thursday said that President Óscar Arias Sánchez participated in a meeting in 2005 in Guatemala with wealthy and influential businessmen who donated to his campaign. The message said elected officials of the party were demanding an explanation.

The no campaign got a setback Thursday when the U.S. trade representative, Susan C. Schwab, said in Washington that if Costa Rica rejects the treaty, the United States will not seek to re-negotiate it. She also pointed out that benefits under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, "including those benefiting Costa Rica’s textiles and tuna industries," are scheduled to expire next year.

"The fact is, the United States has never faced a situation where one of our trading partners rejects a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States, but continues to seek unilateral trade preferences,” she said.

Casa Presidencial quickly called a press conference to lend weight to her words. Attending were Francisco Tomás Dueñas Leiva, the Costa Rican ambassador to Washington, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, minister of the Presidencia, and Marco Vinicio Ruiz, minister of Comercio Exterior.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana, however, countered by saying that Democrats would take control of the U.S. government soon and that party might be more open to renegotiation.

Ottón Solís, the president of Acción Ciudadana, has claimed continually that the agreement could be renegotiated, but he never has been clear on what parts he would change, and two weeks ago
traffic demonstration
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Portoradores, their vehicles plastered with Sí stickers, demonstrate in Zapote in the rain.

he invited two anti-trade U.S. lawmakers here.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez went on television again Thursday night, the second time in three days. This time he told the Costa Rican people that U.S. officials had denied there was any possibility of renegotiating the treaty and those that say otherwise lie.

He said the free trade treaty was needed to create a society more prosperous and integrated.

And Arias took issue with the opposition interjecting religion into the campaign.  One  churchman went so far as to say that voting for the free trade treaty was a sin. God is neither with the yes vote or the no vote, said Arias. God is with all, he added. And he asked that God accompany Costa Ricans Sunday when they vote.

Portoradores, the drivers who carry passengers on contract, staged a rolling demonstration for the treaty Thursday and managed to jam up traffic in Sabana Norte and in Zapote. The portoradores said that they thought the trade treaty would allow them to keep their jobs. Licensed taxi drivers would like to see them out of business.

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones expects to have preliminary results of the election by 11:30 p.m. Sunday. The urban vote is likely to be reported early and be against the treaty.

Ratification depends on the rural vote and whether Óscar Arias' Partido Liberación Nacional can generate high favorable margins in Guanacaste and Limón as it did for his presidential election.


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 198

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Our readers' opinions
Original free trade text
contains warning for Ticos


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I don't normally comment on Costa Rican politics, because I believe as a foreigner living as a guest here, it is not my business.  But I am making an exception in this case because the stakes are so high for the Costa Rican people whom I have grown to admire and respect.

The advocates of free trade frequently justify their position by quoting the work of the 19th century Scottish economist, and the first academic investigator of international trade, David Ricardo, who first annunciated the "law of comparative advantage." It states that nations should specialize in doing what they do most efficiently, and then trade their wares among themselves, to the benefit of all.  Sounds great, doesn't it?

But what the free trade proponents disingenuously fail to acknowledge is that this was not all that Ricardo had to say.  His careful, rigorous work, published in 1817 as "The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation" and still highly regarded by all sides as the definitive, classical work on the economic principles of international trade, included an analysis of free trade agreements.  He identified the conditions that must be met in order for a free trade agreement to work to the benefit of both (or all) parties.  These characteristics are:

1.  Trade between the parties must be balanced and the balance must be stable — none running significant current-accounts deficits or surpluses against the other(s).
2.  Employment must be at maximum in the partied countries — no significant unemployment in any party country.
3.  Borders must be closed to the movement of significant sums of investment capital, i.e., profits and investment capital have to stay at home.

Ricardo gives an example (and a very instructive one for us) of what would happen if these conditions are not met.  He reasons that if, because of climate, Portugal has a comparative advantage in producing wine grapes and wine, and, because of climate, England has a comparative advantage in producing wool and its products, both countries stand to benefit if they trade with each other. All is well and good, so far.

But if both investments and goods are free to flow where they will (as would be the case under CAFTA) or there is a significant disparity in employment levels or trade is unbalanced (and foreign exchange rates are free to move to reflect the imbalance), English investors may see that it would be to their benefit to move their wineries and looms to Portugal and ship both wine and wool back to England.

The result is that English mill workers lose their jobs and the remaining wool mills in England that don't move are driven out of business by cheaper wool milled in Portugal.  Portuguese wineries and wine grape exporters are driven out of business by the new English-owned wineries. Portuguese wine producers are driven out of business by the new competition from the British producers and their employees lose their jobs.  Portuguese cotton growers and mill owners are driven out of business by the new, cheap Portuguese-milled wool. While Portuguese workers may benefit from additional employment opportunities in the new English wineries and mills, their wages are not driven up because the Portuguese labor market is not increased on net, and because labor remains in surplus.

The losers are the workers of England, whose need for jobs remain but whose jobs have been exported and the workers in the local wineries in Portugal, whose employers are driven out of business, and the cotton growers and millers of Portugal, who cannot compete with the cheap new woolen goods being milled in Portugal.

Who wins?  The only winners are the economic elites in England, whose wealth is unaffected by this and who are still in a position to enjoy cheaper wine and wool from Portugal, or the mill owners who benefit from the marginally improved economics of their trade. In other words, the only net result from the free trade is an increase in the disparity of wealth — it moves from the working class to the mill owners.  It is why the elites, and their political sycophants, are always the ones who push endlessly for free trade even when the requisite conditions for successful free trade not being met.  And it is why the opposition always comes from the working class victims whose jobs or economic opportunities are lost.

If Ricardo's example sounds like a model for what would happen here, with Dos Pinos and Atlas playing the role of the Portuguese wine growers and producers, and Whirlpool and Beatrice Foods playing the role of the English mill owners, it is simply because the technology of modernity has not repealed the laws of economics that Ricardo elucidated nearly two centuries ago.  Indeed, the reduced unit costs of international transportation has, if anything, actually reinforced those laws.

Additionally, it is not an accident that there is an immigration crisis in the United States. After NAFTA (the model on which CAFTA was based) was implemented in Mexico, a tidal wave of cheap corn and beans flooded the Mexican market from the United States, and drove an estimated 2.3 million campesinos out of business and off their land.  And real wages in Mexico, adjusted for inflation, have dropped dramatically as a result of those campesinos competing desperately for jobs.  The remaining campesinos, with nowhere else to go, largely got their feet wet in the waters of the Rio Grande.   Desperation, caused in no small part by NAFTA, is what is driving the illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States — the demographic analysis is very clear about that.

Let us hope and pray that the warnings of Ricardo and the lessons of the Mexican experience are heeded and the same does not happen among our Costa Rican friends and neighbors.
Scott Bidstrup
La Guacima

Canadian says U.S. looks out
only for itself in trade

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Ask the average Canadian how they have benefitted from the NAFTA deal. Since NAFTA our national oil, gas, and electrical resource prices have shot up as they are now completely controlled by insatiable U.S. demand. We routinely see the U.S. defy our trade deal you need look no farther than the softwood lumber and wheat issues. The bottom line, the U.S. does only what is good for the U.S.. Costa Rica beware.

While vacationing in Costa Rica over the past few years my family has marvelled at the unbelievable amount of consumer goods that are actually produced in Costa Rica.  We all buy electronics and vehicles made offshore, but when CAFTA goes through you can expect to see a lot more U.S. made
products replacing those Costa Rican made ones.

Paul Murphy
British Columbia, Canada
Dirty tricks by no group
exceed Casas suggestions

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The letter in today's edition from Rich and Jean Redmond was a wake-up call to Ticos.  I only wish they could read it before voting on Sunday.
 
The NO campaign is using dirty tricks equal to any proposed by Kevin Casas in his now exposed memo.  A list of items that could be exported is widely circulated and includes body parts and munitions.  This is because they are items that are part of international trade.  Cocaine is also on the list with an import duty of zero.  Does this mean the United States will now accept imports of cocaine duty free under CAFTA?
 
The NO campaign cites the Caribbean Basin Initiative as a security blanket. That is, Costa Rica already has duty free imports to the United States, why does it need CAFTA?  If you think the United States is going to continue a non-reciprocal trade agreement with Costa Rica if CAFTA is not passed, then you don't understand how tough the United States can be as a trading partner — especially in a political environment in which Congress is moving toward increased trade protectionism.
 
There are still many unanswered questions in the debate.  As regards the rich getting richer, I wonder what a middle manager earns in a Costa Rican monopoly and how that compares with what a middle manager earns in the private sector.  My hunch is that the NO campaign is as interested in protecting the comfortable lifestyles of those monopolistic middle managers as it ever could be in decreasing income inequality in Costa Rican society.

A Tico friend of mine once worked as a bilingual operator for ICE.  His direct supervisor was a woman he rarely saw.  He once quipped, "You would think she would at least leave a picture for us so we could remember what she looked like."  How do you think she will vote on Sunday?
Grady Bruce
San Pedro, Costa Rica
Palm Springs,California

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 198


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Catholic students
object to ministry decree


Hundreds of Catholic school students, at least one statue of a saint and teachers Thursday protested a recent educational ministry decree that says the ministry will pick teachers for the private schools. The Asociación Nacional de Educación Católica was supporting a constitutional appeal by a parent from Grecia, Henry Víquez Bolaños, against the Feb. 7 decree. The ministry had no comment.

Catholic protest
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas


Two rivers being dredged near Cartago to prevent flooding
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency commission officials have ordered dredging at six points in the rios Taras and Reventado to clear sediment and trash to make the flow better. The plan is to try to avoid the disasterous flooding that hit the Cartago area Wednesday afternoon.

Daniel Gallardo Monge, president of the commission blamed bad planning for the flooding that affected more than 200 homes. Most were built right in the course of the rivers, he said. Gallardo also said that the construction along the waterways is strangling the ditches and natural drainage systems that cross the various urban areas.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias will be investing about 40 
million colons or about $77,000 initially for the work by the machinery in the rivers. Gallardo declared a red alert for the area where hundreds went to shelters.

Gallardo noted that a flooding tragedy took place in the area years ago and dikes were built to protect Cartago. But people seeking a place to constructe a home have done so all along the dike and have inflicted damage on the protective structure.

The bulk of the damage took place in Los Diques, La Lima, San Nicolás, Quircot and Llano Grande.

Gallardo said that at least nine bridges have been damaged.

The heavy rain in the mountains sent a wall of water down the rivers about 3 p.m. Wednesday


U.S. citizen held for investigation of corruption of minor girls in Alajuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen in Pueblo Nuevo de Alajuela has been jailed on a second allegation of  paying a woman to give him access to her children for illegal activities.

The 50-year-old man, identified by the last name of Duncan, was detained in the home of a 41-year-old woman and her four daughters, all underage, said investigators.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the case had been under investigation for three months. Agents
 allege that the man took  nude photos of an 8-year-old.

A 13-year-old girl was used to give dance shows, they said.

Also detained was the woman, identified by the last name of Rodríguez. Agents said they had confiscated a hard drive and photos in a 6 a.m. raid.

The man was free on conditional liberty awaiting action on a similar charge of corruption of minors and making pornography, said investigators. That case began in 2005 and currently is in the Tribunales  de  Justicia  de  Jacó.


A week that was not dull but lacking in things to share
There are some weeks when living in Costa Rica does not inspire a subject for a column —or at least something worth sharing with others.  I am sure that happens only to me.  A blank mind.

It is not that it has been a dull week.  I have been doing interesting things, and the world has been going through some interesting times.

I can think of no country more concerned with political correctness than the United States.  I am beginning to wonder how far the pendulum in the direction of ridiculous is going to go.  I grew up being called from time to time, a wop or a dago.  I simply said to myself “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and managed to become an adult not particularly damaged by them. 

It was being called an Eyetalian that still makes me cringe.  I didn’t like it even when it was meant as a compliment, as in, “You’re not like most other Eyetalians.” 

So instead of political correctness, may I suggest cultural correctness? (Or better yet, grammatical correctness. I get terribly upset when I hear things like, “You will get to meet he and his family.”  I actually heard a news anchor say that!)  However, I am sure our friends and not-friends in the Middle East, flinch when they hear Eyeraqi or Eyerainian.  As a sometimes Eyetalian, I can assure you that they would feel much more comfortable being addressed as Iraqi or Iranian.

And for those of us from the United States who are living in Costa Rica, we must try to remember that in Spanish we are not americanos.  Costa Ricans, and perhaps other Central and Latin Americans resent our use of the definition of “American” as ours since they argue that they too, are americanos.  So, instead, to be culturally correct, we are estadounidenses.  This does not easily translate into comprehensible English, and I have trouble getting my tongue around the word, so I simply call myself a gringa, which no longer seems to be a pejorative sobriquet and, therefore, quite acceptable.

Saturday I went to the used book sale held by Democrats Abroad.  Anyone who has read my own book knows I     
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


love sales of second-hand, formerly used, once enjoyed, recycled, just about anything, but especially books. It is like being left in the world’s most eclectic library.  One where the ghosts of other readers still linger.   It is an excursion through time and space just walking around and picking up one or another of the books. 

Because I have so little room for books where I live, I limited my own accumulation to some mysteries, a book on bees, Greek mythology, and a paperback entitled, “Your body is your best doctor!” (The exclamation point is part of the title). The first sentences in this book are, “Remember that no doctor ever cured anything.  If a patient is cured, it is because his own body does it.  The doctor helps by his knowledge and aid.”  Lately my doctors seem to depend more and more upon the aid of their computers.  I wonder if they would recognize me in the hall later, or if I would recognize them, except in profile. 

I noticed that some of the books were labeled “New York Times Best Seller!”  They were in suspiciously very good condition, like they had never been opened.  I have heard that some writers will buy up a thousand or so copies of their books to set them on the road to becoming a “best seller,” (I sometimes think the animal closest to humans is not the pig or the chimp, but sheep). 

But, actually, this is just sour grapes on my part. 

The books I read tend to look like well-worn teddy bears when I am finished with them.

Another interesting thing that happened this week was that my friend, Sandy came down from Tilarán, and we had lunch at what has become my favorite restaurant in these parts.  However, I see that this blank mind has no more blank space, so that will have to wait until next week.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 5, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 198

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'Silver surfers' are now being courted by social network sites
 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A growing number of social-networking Web sites are being developed for people over the age of 50.

The Internet monitoring company Hitwise says 14 percent of adult Internet users are older than 55.  And it predicts seniors in Britain will overtake 35 to 44 year olds as the age group with the largest representation online.

There's a boom in networking sites targeting older people interested in keeping in touch with friends and chatting about subjects such as diet and health care.

The executives at GrowingBolder.com meet to discuss how their new Web site for so-called "silver surfers" will look.

Marc Middleton is the founder of this new Internet site.  He says it will be a social-networking service, similar to youth-oriented sites like MySpace and Facebook, but with content relevant to older users.

He claims, on average, people over 50 spend more time online than any other demographic group, but so far have been ignored by online entrepreneurs.

"The U.S. is such a youth worshipping culture and I think Hollywood is to blame for that more than anything else. And there's just a dramatic, revolutionary change underway right now. It's no longer people fighting aging.  It's embracing aging."
Online marketing trade publisher, iMedia Connection, says more than 43 million people aged 50 or older used the Internet in 2005 — up 21 percent from the previous year.

GrowingBolder's founders say those users generally have more money to spend and show more loyalty to certain Web sites.  They say less-mobile seniors often use the Internet to keep in touch.

The company's executive vice president is Bill Shafer. "Think of what it can do for seniors. Think of how it can take people who are not feeling relevant anymore, that feel that they've lost their voice in society, and it gives them their voice back. It makes them relevant".

It also makes them relevant to advertisers.

For example, drug companies — which now market many medications to older people — are spending more online. 

The pharmaceutical publication, Pharmalive, says more than 30 percent of the marketing budgets of such firms is dedicated to social networking.

GrowingBolder describes itself more like a TV station than a Web site, offering video stories and interviews with celebrities over 50.

But the number of so-called "graying Internet" sites is growing. Boomertown, Multiply, ReZoom and others are all looking for a share of the expanding seniors market.


Pinochet family members ordered to be detained by criminal judge in Chile
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Family members of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet have been arrested on corruption charges.

Judge Carlos Cerda Thursday ordered the arrest of Pinochet's widow, Lucia Hiriart, as well as the couple's five adult sons and daughters. Arrest orders were also issued for 17 other people, including Pinochet's former secretary, retired military generals and other former associates.

Judge Cerda said he took action because of solid indications that they had participated in the misuse of funds while Pinochet held power from 1973 until 1990. The Chilean
government described the arrests as a strictly judicial decision.

The arrests are related to an investigation into multi-million-dollar accounts the former dictator held in banks in the United States and elsewhere.

The case is the latest to face the Pinochet family in connection with money believed to have been embezzled during the Pinochet era. Family members have previously been charged with tax evasion.

Pinochet died last December without facing trial on charges of embezzlement and violations of human rights.


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