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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 198
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Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar Faja is surrounded by reporters Tuesday as he explains he has talked to seven of his counterparts from other countries about the Alcatel scandal.
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

 
Corruption scandals now generating marches
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and A.M. Costa Rica staff reports

There will be more marches next week.

Monday the Movimiento Cívico Nacional will take to the streets in a protest that President Abel Pacheco calls threatening.

Tuesday, the executive branch is encouraging a march against corruption and in support of Costa Rican traditional values. Public employees might even be given time off to participate.

The Movimiento Cívico Nacional is the same ad hoc group that blocked highways and tied up the country during the last five days of August. The movement is calling the march a big patriotic act. They will be joined by businessmen who import used cars, an occupation that has been hurt by Costa Rica’s insistance on government exhaust inspections in home countries.

Pacheco said that the movement got all it wanted in the settlement that ended the most recent strike and road blockades. He said he cannot do anthing about the soaring world price of oil nor the status of vehicle inspections in the country because that case is in constitutional court.

The movement includes the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados which is flexing its political muscles. The group quickly attacked scandals involving the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and the contract the French firm Alcatel got for up-graded cellular telephones. 

Former presidents Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez 

Echeverría have been incriminated by revelations about the scandals and money that was paid to officials.

Pacheco originally called on Rodríguez, the current secretary general of the Organization of American States to return to Costa Rica from Washington to explain himself. A fellow politician gave a deposition in which he said that Rodríguez wanted to share in the proceeds of a "gift" from Alcatel after a $260 million contract was approved.

Pacheco backed off slightly Tuesday and said he would await to hear about charges brought by the local prosecutors. However, some legislators are calling for a special meeting of OAS member states to remove Rodríguez, who just started a five-year-term.

The chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall’Anese, said in a statement that no decision had been taken on Rodríguez and that comments Rodriguez made and a letter he sent to Pacheco were being analysed.

Pacheco told reporters at his regular Tuesday news conference that he has become angry and tired by the scandals. 

The march next Tuesday is being set up by the Consejo Nacional de Rectores, among other organizations.

Meanwhile, the swirl of scandal has resulted in the firing of the head of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet monopoly. The ex-general manager is Isidro Serrano. In the investigation of Alcatel, prosecutors learned that Serrano accepted the hospitality of the Ericsson company at a five-star hotel in Geneva. Serrano was there for a convention.

 
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Adoption bill advances
in legislative committee

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative committee has approved a measure that says a child can only be placed with foreigners if there is no Costa Rican family here available.

The measure also would mandate that the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia maintain supervision of the child for up to eight years. The agency must verify the physical, mental and social conditions of the youngster.

The measure was approved by the legislative Comisión de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia. The measure now goes to the full Asamblea Nacional.

The reason for the measure is to close the door to the adoption business, said Carlos Avendaño, a member of the committee.

The measure seeks to clear up conflicts between the family courts and the Consejo Nacional de Adopciones. The result would be that all adoptions would have to pass through the Patronato. Now adoptions can be done through the judiciary or through a private lawyer, in some cases.

There was no indication where the Patronato will get the money to keep track of adopted children in other countries.

U.S. citizen here faces
charges of child sex

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 63-year-old U.S. citizen who has lived here for four years faces allegations he sexually abused at least five youngsters.

The man, William Richard Callahan, was arrested by the Unidad Contra la Explotación Sexual of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. He was described as a retiree who was bathing in his La Uruca home when investigators entered.

Callahan was forbidden to leave the country by a criminal judge. In addition, he may not contact the youngsters.

Officials said that Callahan had been under investigation for a year after neighbors reported frequent visits by minors, mainly boys, to his home. 

Illegal visitors detained
on way to United States

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nine citizens of Ecuador were detained Tuesday morning while they were en route to the United States as presumed illegal immigrants. The foreigners were arrested in Rio Claro de Golfito not far from the border with Panamá.

Officials said they were able to make the arrest because residents of the area complained about a neighbor who was collecting money and transporting illegal visitors. Such actions are not now sanctioned, but they will be if a new immigration law passes.

In another case, Fuerza Pública officers reported that they found 35 foreign passports in a bag at Parque Central de Cuidad Neily near the same border. There were 24 Peruvian passports with 11 from Ecuador, they said.

Vehicle robbery suspects
held after police search

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police captured three adults and two minors Monday night after a gang beat and tied up a taxi driver and then took his vehicle.

Officials said that a number of taxi drivers had made the same complaints.

The Unidad Contra Robo de Vehiculos of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública had been seeking the suspects for some time.

The taxi driver Monday night picked up two men near Mall San Pedro. They asked the driver, identified by the last names of Tenorio Mora, to drive them to Moravia, north of San José. In the vicinity of Trinidad de Moravia the men beat and tied up the driver.

A police search managed to locate two cars about an hour later near the Zurquí Tunnel on the Braulio Carrillo highway. The five persons were arrested, and the taxi driver’s car was recovered, as was a pistol.
 

Changing out light poles
may mean outages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workmen will be replacing utility poles in Kilómetro 5 and Cerro Partido in Golfito this morning, and some power outages may take place, said the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Meanwhile along the Río Reventazón, the water will be a little higher Saturday because workers have to open the floodgates of the dam at the Angostura hydroelectric plant in Turrialba. The institute said that the water level will not be higher than during a typical rainy seasons but that residents should be aware.

Slide takes truck

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A landslide on the Inter-American Highway east of Esparza swept a truck off the road into a deep ravine about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. A second vehicle was caught in the slide but did not go over the cliff.

No one was hurt seriously. The truck was parked at the time, officials said. However, the slide, one of several, closed the highway for a time. 

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Tourism group mirrors growth in nation's mainstay
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica was never prepared to be a tourist destination and has been trying to recover ever since. 

This is the opinion of Roberto Morales Johanning, the general manager of the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo. This  professional group, founded Feb. 2, 1982, grew out of the need to establish some kind of centralized organization that could give individuals in the Costa Rican tourist industry more direction and  success in their ventures, said Morales. 

Between 1978 and 1982 Costa Rica was seen as a combined destination with Central America. "All Costa Rica had to offer at this time was five basic tours and, as a consequence, tourists left feeling very unsatisfied." 

Individuals in Costa Rica’s tourism industry saw that there was an opportunity for them, and they went into overdrive building hotels and  restaurants without proper planning, causing severe repercussions, he noted. 

"Research and development did not exist, and, as a consequence, there was an uncontrolled increase in the amount of hotels and restaurants being constructed back in the 70’s. There were too many hotels and not enough visitors. This is something that is still a problem now and needs to be monitored," said Morales. 

During the late 80’s tourism in Costa Rica began to change. The Costa Rican government saw that although Costa Rica was small it had a lot to offer tourists in terms of the volcanoes, beaches and the rainforest. The tourist board devised a 14-day tour that would encourage tourism to expand throughout the country and not just in San José. 

Visitors who were interested in Costa Rica’s ecological attractions began to visit the country and stay for longer periods of time. 

However it soon became evident in the early 90’s that Costa Rica’s government was still more focused on the profits of tourism. In its haste to boost the influx of tourist dollars, the government of Rafael Ángel Calderon Fournier began promoting large-scale resort development on the shores of the Pacific coast. The biggest project continues to be controversial.

This was not without controversy, as a result in 1999 the Instituto Costarricense de turismo, in conjunction with the Asociacion de Profesionales and the Camara National de Turismo, created a certification process that promoted sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Cruise ship passengers are bused from Limón and Puntarenas to visit the sites in San José.

The association of professionals in tourism now not only advises its members about how to be successful but also about how to protect Costa Rica so that its natural beauty is preserved, said Morales. 

The association has acquired over 585 members in the tourist industry and it works alongside the Instituto Costariccense de Turismo and the Camara Nacional de Turismo de Costa Rica. Morales said that communication between the groups is good. 

One of the main achievements of the association is the approval of their request to set up an international convention center. The association supports the construction of the international  convention center, financed by the donations of the Taiwanese government, Morales said, adding: 

"Although we are not directly involved in the construction of the international convention center I can say that we made a request for it." 

Overseas investors may be wary about the integrity of government related projects amid the current allegations of corruption although Morales said he does not believe that will affect the tourism industry in Costa  Rica.  "I do not believe that the actions of a select few will make people think twice about coming here or investing in Costa Rica." 


 
Inter-American-Court strikes down yet another defamation law
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that a criminal defamation conviction in Paraguay violated international law, a move that is expected to strengthen the efforts of free expression advocates in Latin America. 

Coming on the heels of an earlier decision this year which ruled against criminal defamation laws in Costa Rica, the judgment has broad implications for press freedom in the region, says the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The court ruled that criminal proceedings against former presidential candidate Ricardo Canese violated Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights because they were an "excessive limitation in a democratic society." 

It ordered the Paraguayan government to pay Canese $35,000 in damages. As Paraguay is a signatory to the convention, the ruling is binding on the government.

The case stems from an election campaign in 1992, during which Canese made statements in the press 

questioning rival candidate Juan Carlos Wasmosy's ties to former dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Canese said Wasmosy was Stroessner's front man in a construction partnership that was awarded a contract to build a giant hydroelectric power plant on the Paraguay-Brazil border. 

Wasmosy went on to become president of Paraguay. 

In October 1992, the construction partnership filed a legal action against Canese alleging libel and defamation. Canese had not named the business partners in his statements. In March 1994, Canese was sentenced to four months in prison and fined US$7,500. He eventually appealed to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the case, after which it was taken up by the Inter-American Court. 

The court ruling follows an August 2004 decision by the Court, which overturned the criminal defamation conviction of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa of La Nación.

The president of the court, Judge Sergio García Gamírez, suggested in a concurring opinion that criminal defamation laws should be repealed. 


 
Head of Guatemalan journalists' group gunned down on highway
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Seven years after Guatemala's civil war ended with the signing of peace accords in 1996, the country remains dangerous for journalists. 

Last week, the leader of a journalists' association was murdered and a magazine reporter received death threats, said Centro de Reportivos sobre Guatemala.

Miguel Ángel Morales is the man who was killed eight days ago by an unidentified individual while travelling on a highway from Guatemala City to Izabal. He had pulled over to the side to allow a car to pass him when an assailant shot him. He died instantly.  Morales, 70, was the secretary general of 

the Círculo Nacional de Prensa. The motive for the killing has not been confirmed. 

Three days earlier, César Augusto López Valle, director of the magazine "Panorama" in Retalhuleu, received a death threat. The journalist told the center that a local member of the Guatemalan veterans' association grabbed him by the neck and told him he would be killed if he continued to report on the association's activities. 

Issues involving the military are highly sensitive in Guatemala. During the decades-long civil war, an estimated 100,000 people were killed, according to a U.N.-sponsored truth commission. It is widely believed that army forces, acting in collusion with paramilitary groups, were responsible for the majority of the killings. 


 
 
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Powell says Brazil worthy U.N. Security Council candidate
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — Secretary of State Colin Powell, on his first visit to Brazil, says that country is a solid candidate for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council under anticipated U.N. reforms. Powell held talks here with senior Brazilian officials including President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva.

The United States is not endorsing any Security Council candidates, at least until a reform panel appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan submits its recommendations later this year. 

But Powell is speaking favorably of the declared candidacy of Brazil, which has been active in regional peace-making in Haiti and Venezuela and is increasingly seen as a global economic power.

Addressing a Brazilian-American business group in the country’s financial hub, Sao Paulo, the Secretary said Brazil would appear to meet important criteria for a permanent seat on the council:

"Brazil would have to be seen as an important 

candidate for such membership," he said. "A large, non-nuclear democracy, solidly grounded, playing a responsible role on the world stage, willing to send troops to other parts of the world, [including] the hemisphere in peacekeeping efforts. It is playing a very responsible role in discussions on the world stage. And I would certainly think Brazil would be a solid candidate."

Pressure has been building for change in the structure of the United Nations, where veto-wielding permanent membership on the Security Council has been limited since the founding of the world body to the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China.

Brazil, the largest and most populous Latin American nation, has been openly campaigning for a seat, and recently joined in an informal alliance with three other leading candidate countries, India, Japan, and Germany.

Despite seeming ideological differences, the Bush administration and the leftist Brazilian government of Lula have had increasingly warm relations.


 
U.N. mission says Guatemala still beset by woes
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Guatemala has made great strides since ending its civil war in 1996, but long-standing problems continue to afflict the Central American nation, says the United Nations.

A report by the U.S.-supported U.N. Verification Mission in Guatemala said Guatemala has "laid a firmer foundation on which to construct a better future." The mission is slated to close in December after 10 years of support in Guatemala, where peace accords were signed in 1996 to end the last and longest of Central America's civil conflicts — one that cost more than 100,000 lives.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan added in a statement last week that Guatemala's political process has matured to the point where the country should now be able to deal peacefully with all of its unresolved issues. State-sponsored human rights abuses have stopped, the Guatemalan military has been reduced and democratic and peaceful elections have been held, Annan said.

But the mission report said Guatemala is still beset by corruption, crime, and a deep-seated legacy of racism and social inequality.

Annan said that "if left to fester, these problems could be ingredients for social conflict, stunted economic development, and the corrosion of democratic governance." He also criticized the slow pace of reparations for victims of human rights violations during the civil war, observing that many of the people responsible for the crimes have not yet been punished.

Annan warned that Guatemala still faces entrenched problems when the mission leaves, especially what he described as "the previously taboo topics of racism and discrimination" against the country's indigenous population — the Mayan, Xinca, and Garifuna peoples.

The U.N. said that a historical commission, for example, found that 83 percent of the people killed during Guatemala's civil war were Mayan. Annan said that since 1996, there have been few substantial improvements or efforts to eradicate the barriers that exist for the indigenous groups. 

In that regard, the U.N. said an attempt in 1999 to alter Guatemala's constitution to declare it a multicultural state failed, while rural areas with a predominantly indigenous population still lack many basic services.

The report recommended that multicultural programs be created to make Guatemalans more aware of racism and discrimination, and it also called for bilingual education to be expanded and better funded.

The report also called for tax reform so that the Guatemalan government has enough revenue to adequately fund health, education, security, and justice services.

In 10 years of operation from 1995 through 2004, the U.N. mission’s budgets totaled $209.7 million, the U.N. said, adding that at its peak in 2000, there were 532 staff members in the mission, comprising civilian police, military observers, and international and local officials.


 
Pro-Aristide outbreak in Haiti strongly condemned
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti. — The savage murders of several Haitian policemen and the bloodshed that followed demonstrations Friday and Saturday in this, Haiti's capital, have been strongly condemned by the U.N. Special Representative to that Caribbean nation.

In a statement, Tuesday the United Nations' Juan Valdes said the violence adds to the poverty, instability, and natural disasters that have devastated the country. Valdes appealed to all Haitians "to walk the path of dialogue in pursuit of national reconciliation."

The headless bodies of three Haitian police officers were found Friday with reports that they were 

killed during violent rallies to support the return of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from exile in South Africa. Aristide resigned from office on Feb. 29 and left the country the same day.

Valdes said the U.S.-backed U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti will continue to work in support of the Haitian police in maintaining public order, thereby helping to ensure the security of Haiti's citizens and respect for the rule of law.

"I call upon the Haitian population to avoid being drawn into a vicious cycle of revenge and violence and to follow the path of dialogue, reconciliation, and peace," Valdes said. He added: "I do not want to underestimate the seriousness of the current situation, but I believe that there is still time to resume dialogue."

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