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(506) 223-1327            Published Monday, Oct. 8, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 199           E-mail us   
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Treaty backers engineer thin upset
By Saray Ramírez Vindas,
José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nearly 60 percent of the Costa Rican electorate turned out Sunday to ratify the free trade treaty with the United States by 48,198 votes.

The vote results came in record time because the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones used e-mails via the Internet to get the totals from 4,750 polling places, more than 93 percent of the locations.

Some results still are coming in from distant voting districts, such as Isla del Coco and some Indian reserves. The results will not be official until certified by the tribunal.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez reached out to the free trade treaty opponents in a speech, but leaders of the no campaign were less than gracious. They promised demands for recounts and challenges to the voting, even though some 200 observers from the Organization of American States said there were no obvious problems.

Another story, photos HERE!

The results were clear even at 8:30 p.m. when Luis Antonio Sobrado, chief magistrate of the tribunal, released the preliminary totals. The percentage never varied through the evening.

Participants in the Sí campaign danced and cheer at their Sabana Oeste headquarters. Many in the no campaign went home early.

Some 50 youths opposed to the treaty burned Sí posters and flags near the Asamblea Legislativa buildings in San José about 9:30 p.m. However, there were no reports of serious disturbances even though treaty opponents had threatened to take the battle into the streets.

Of the seven Costa Rican provinces, the Sí campaign carried four. In San José Sí triumphed by 19,612 (304,553 to 284,941), according to preliminary tribunal figures. In the Provincia de Cartago the difference was 24,313 (106,094 to
Referendum vote

51.58%
787,147
No
48.42%
738,949
Based on 96.33% of 1,549,723 voters  (59.9% eligible)

81,781). The no campaign carried Alajuela 151,785 to 145,311, Guanacaste, 44,878 to 40,291 and Puntarenas, 55,658 to 54,314. Limón strongly supported Sí 47,401 to 38,790, the Tribunal said. Heredia also was in the Sí camp, 89,183 to 81,113.

The favorable vote for the treaty was a surprise because polls published last week predicted a no victory.

The referendum, if certified, would ratify the treaty, and no further legislative action is needed. However, lawmakers are facing 13 measures that are required to adjust Costa Rican law to what negotiators promised to do in the treaty. Opponents of the treaty have promised to fight the passage of these measures if the treaty were ratified. Arias said he would shelve the measures if the treaty was defeated.

So the battleground now shifts from a national election campaign to the 57-member legislature where a coalition of parties supporting the treaty have a two-thirds majority. However, assembly rules allow extensive stalling by individual lawmakers.

Sunday saw mostly good weather, except for Guanacaste and in Limón where heavy rains were reported. That may have affected the turnout.

The results were a bitter pill for Ottón Solís, the former presidential candidate and head of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. Based on polls, treaty opponents expected an easy win. He and other leaders of the No campaign spoke to their supporters, who were shouting words like fraud and rebellion.


Nation is divided no more, a conciliatory Arias says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prolonged applause and cheers greeted President Óscar Arias Sánchez Sunday night as he appeared at Casa Presidencial to give a conciliatory message on the passage of the free trade treaty.  The president had been met with boos from some when he showed up to vote in Pavas earlier in the day.

The speech also contained high praise for Costa Rican democracy.

"We know the results of the referendum," said Arias, "but we do not know the future. The future of Costa Rica is a blank page in which, with everyone's hands, we still are able to write the best lines of our history."

Arias repeated his statement that the referendum was a gift from God. He said that the first time when the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones called the vote on the free trade treaty with the United States. The referendum allowed the country to  celebrate its democracy, he said.

Arias also addressed the idea that Costa Rica is a nation divided over the trade treaty. What divides the country are the 900,000 Costa Ricans living in poverty and the scandalous gap that separates the rich and the poor, he said. He blamed this on lack of jobs for the young and inequality in access to education and health.

Then his talk turned more toward democracy:

"With this referendum we have made a Costa Rica more democratic, more sovereign and more grand."

"The most important message from the ballot box is that no one who has participated in this discussion is the exclusive owner of the truth," said Arias. "The truth that will make us free as a
ARias and his ministers
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
A smiling Óscar Arias is flanked by Bruno Stagno and Fernando Zumbado, both ministers.

 nation we have to find . . .  in the unique form in which history has shown us that we can find it: opening our minds, reviewing our beliefs, tolerating contrary opinions, engaging in dialogue, sharing the table, the bread and the word."

"The frontiers that divided us disappear today. We will leave being Sí or No. As of today we are one Costa Rica, one people who want, need and deserve to achieve development.

"We are a nation small in territory but great in ideals," he said.

It was at the Escuela Carlos Sanabria in Pavas about 10:30 a.m. Sunday where reporters said the crowd of free trade opponents greeted him with boos and accused him of selling the country. Treaty supporters clashed with the opponents, and presidential security personnel had to separate them, the reporters said. Arias had to talk to reporters later because of the fuss.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 8 2007, Vol. 7, No. 199

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U.S. citizen gets surprise
as cops grab him at motel


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Santa Ana publishing executive had the dubious honor of being a poster boy for lecherous Gringos in a major Spanish-language daily newspaper, but he said he got a bum rap. The man is Jim Zimolka, a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and perhaps someone who might be called a perpetual tourist.

Zimolka said he was advertising for a secretary and eventually met one of the applicants at Parque La Sabana while he was engaged in a sports activity Friday. He said he did not know that the situation was a setup by the Policía de Migración. One thing led to another, and the two women, who said they wanted to be models, agreed to pose for photos for Zimolka, he said. But he was not prepared, and said he did not know where to take such photos.

He said that was when the women suggested going to a motel. They ended up at one such establishment in Tres Rios after he stopped at an automatic teller machine. Zimolka said he was unaware that motel in Costa Rica means a series of rooms for sexual encounter instead of the definition current in the United States. He also said he was concerned that the women were going to rob him.

He said that when he pulled his vehicle into a parking space at the motel, an estimated 10 police officers with guns drawn descended on him, threw him to the ground and stomped on his back. At least one of the women turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Photographers for El Diario Extra also happened to be at the scene, hence the Saturday photo of Zimolka being led away in handcuffs. The newspaper featured him as a Gringo involved in an orgy at a motel. But he counters quickly that no money changed hands, no sex took place and he didn't even check into the motel. His summary is that he was entrapped and framed. He also denies that he broke any laws. His tourist visa was renewed just a week earlier.

The police action appears to stem from a complaint by a former employee. Zimolka said that immigration officials told him that as a tourist he should not be advertising for a secretary or even running a business. He spent several hours in the Hatillo lockup for foreigners and has an appointment with immigration officials Tuesday. In the meantime, he is seeking help to legalize his immigration status. He publishes an international sports magazine.

Our reader's opinion
Already a response comes
from one of our readers


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Now that the CAFTA referendum is settled and ratification of the treaty is virtually assured, we can consider what the future holds in store for Costa Rica.  Since CAFTA is modeled after NAFTA, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, we may expect that Costa Rica almost certainly will experience what Mexico and Canada have experienced since NAFTA was implemented.  To expect anything different would fit a common definition of insanity, i.e., doing the same thing but expecting a different result.  Here are a few things the country can expect.

1. Trade with the U.S. will increase significantly, but only within a few competitively advantaged sectors.  The effect on the rest of of economy will be minimal at best and, more likely, negative.

2. Within a relatively short time, the Costa Rican business sector will complain they can't compete with their Central American trading partners because of Costa Rica's relatively high salaries.  Wage growth will stagnate and a large majority of the new jobs created in the country will be low paying and for unskilled workers.  Real income will decline as it has in both Mexico and Canada.  This will widen the already troublesome gap between the rich and the poor, and at an accelerated rate.

3. The majority of CAFTA-related disputes between Costa Rica and the U.S. (which will be settled by unelected, international tribunals) will be decided in favor of the U.S.  These will include forcing the repeal of laws passed in Costa Rica intended to benefit the citizens of the country but which may negatively impact the profits of foreign investors.  In the rare instances when a decision favors Costa Rica, the U.S. will refuse to comply.

4. Telecommunication and insurance costs will rise after U.S.-based companies begin to compete with Costa Rica's state-run monopolies.  The U.S. companies will cite improved service as the basis for the increase, but because there will be no investment made to develop the current infrastructure, the difference will not be measurable.  In areas of the country where the market is unprofitable, service will be eliminated, as happens frequently in the U.S.

5. The cost of medication will go up because the extended patent rights granted to pharmaceutical manufacturers under CAFTA will delay the introduction of new generics, forcing the use of brand name drugs at monopolistic prices.

6. The social safety net that has been the backbone of Costa Rican society for 60 years will begin to erode as it has in Canada.  Public sector spending will decline, and publicly owned enterprises in strategic sectors will be transferred to the private sector.

7. Laws will be passed that protect the private property rights of foreign investors while jeopardizing Costa Rican citizens.  This will show up most noticeably in the repeal of environmental laws that investors argue will limit their profits.

8. Political divisiveness in the country will increase, social unrest will grow and the already widespread resentment of the U.S. government and of American citizens will expand even further.

I have no doubt that some will call me a "socialist" or "anti-American" based on what I have proposed.  Both are true — but beside the point.  What I have suggested lies in store for Costa Rica has nothing to do with economic or political labels.  They have already happened to America's earlier "free trade" partners.  Those who think they won't happen to Costa Rica should revisit the earlier definition of insanity.

I am also sure that many expatriates will welcome CAFTA as a step toward Americanization of the country.  They are the ones who came here in the first place looking for a cheaper version of the United States and who have no real interest in the Costa Rican people, its history or its culture. 

They tend to live in isolated communities, have few Costa Rican friends and don't care much to learn the language or customs of the country.  Those of us who came here to get away from the vacant values of the United States and to integrate into Costa Rican society can only be saddened by this tragic turn of events.  It is truly unfortunate that the empty and false promises of a glorious future were just too tempting for the majority of Costa Ricans to reject.
Steven A. Roman
San Antonio de Belén

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 8 2007, Vol. 7, No. 199


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Si campaign
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Alfredo Volio, leader of the Sí campaign looks happy, and so do supporters at the La Sabana headquarters.


Late push by Sí campaign could have swayed undecided
By Jay Brodell
of the the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The victory that ratified the free trade treaty Sunday was unexpected because public opinion polls showed that the no vote had a significant lead, perhaps as much as 10 points.

Instead, the vote turned out to mirror closely the slim margin that decided the election of Óscar Arias Sánchez, who said that the presidential race between him and Óttón Solís was, in itself, a referendum on the free trade treaty.

How could the polls be so wrong? The political landscape is dotted with the bleached bones of pollsters who went wrong, whether the question is an election or a new toothpaste.

The Literary Digest poll in 1936 said that Alf Landon would beat Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whooops. FDR got about 62 percent of the popular vote. The cause of this disaster was that the Literary Digest had relied on telephone directories and automobile registrations to obtain participants in its mail poll.  In other words, they asked a disproportionate number of Republicans.

The statistics of a typical poll says that there is a 95 percent probability that the results of the poll will be reflected in the general population within certain margins of errors. What most pollsters do not say is that there is a 5 percent probability that the poll results will be haywire. One in every 20 polls will be grossly inaccurate.

The referendum vote appears to have confounded the pollsters for two reasons. First, some supporters of the treaty were shy about saying so when they were asked their opinion. The no side was certainly far more vocal and perhaps menacing for some.

And then once the polls last week were published showing the no votes with an advantage, President Óscar Arias Sánchez pulled out all the stops and told the nation it was 
Langdale at tribunal
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale, hardly a disinterested observer, showed up at the election tribunal Sunday to predict good relations regardless of the outcome.

about to commit economic suicide. Then the U.S. trade representative said Thursday that there was no chance to re-negotiate the treaty. The drumbeat of the Sí campaign filled the television and the newspapers.

The late breaking news appears to have been enough to sway the undecided, which made up about 2 percent of the published polls.


Luis Antonio Sobrado and waiting students
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas and Saray Ramírez Vindas
Tribunal chief Luis Antonio Sobrado gives the preliminary count while students outside appear glum


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Oct. 8 2007, Vol. 7, No. 199

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Despite an army of bobos, the time has come for unity
Hay muchos bobos que nacen, pero son más los que se hacen.

“There are many born dimwits, but the majority are self made.”

P.T. Barnum once said that there is a sucker born every minute, but sometimes it amazes me how otherwise perfectly reasonable people can be so easily persuaded into behaving like total idiots. When something is so obviously erroneous but we trust it anyway. Exactly what’s up with that?  Of course those who are onto this particular quirk of the human intellect often use it to their advantage by intentionally misleading credulous dopes into believing that total fantasy represents some credible version of reality.

In the run-up to the vote on the trade agreement with the United States it appeared that some Costa Rican pundits, politicians, have taken a tip from Mr. Barnum in the way they “interpreted” certain opinion polls. I suppose some people actually will have been convinced that black is white, day is night, and no means yes. In any case, by the time you read this all that should have been settled.

I remember when a friend of my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I asked his son how his mother was holding up. He replied that they didn’t talk much about what was happening to his father. In other words, she was in deep denial and the rest of the family was content to let her stay there. But they weren’t doing her any favors. When her husband did die it was like a sudden, brutal shock. His death was much harder on her than it would have been had she been gently coaxed into coming to terms with it before it simply happened.

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto


Another fellow I know in Costa Rica kept denying his son had a serious drug problem despite mountains of evidence that this was indeed the case. Then one night the young man got stoned on crack cocaine, got behind the wheel of a car, had a high-speed crash, killing himself and a family of four in the other vehicle he slammed into. At that sad juncture it was, of course, far too late for the father to do anything to help his son. Sometimes it is a little hard to “see the forest for the trees,” as the saying goes in English.

Now that the plebiscite on the trade agreement is over, it’s time for us all to stop being bobos and tontos and idiotas. Let’s hope that the Costa Rican people will be wise enough to avoid denials. It’s time to put all of the petty resentments and animosities that bubbled up during the long and contentious referendum campaign behind us and work together for the general betterment of Tiquicia.


Gates says he did not discuss proposals for new U.S. base
 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he did not discuss possible locations for a new U.S. base in Latin America on any of the five stops he made in the region in recent days. The secretary made the remark during his final stop in Paramaribo, Suriname on Saturday.

Gates made his most definitive statement yet regarding the U.S. search for a place to put a small air base for counter-narcotics flights. Ecuador says it will not renew the lease on a facility it hosts when the agreement expires in 2009. "We have no interest in a base in Suriname. I know that there's been a good deal of speculation about the purpose of my trip to various countries in Latin America, and I can tell you that the subject of an American base did not come up at a single one of my stops," he said.

U.S. officials say they hope the Ecuadorian government will change its position, and in the meantime they are exploring options for other locations. But the subject is so sensitive in Latin American countries, they refuse to discuss any specifics.
Saturday, after meeting with Suriname's president, defense minister and other officials, Gates said the United States wants to deepen its cooperation with regional countries in the fight against drug trafficking, terrorism and international crime, but that does not necessarily mean more U.S. bases. "Along the way, these partnerships may take different forms and different shapes, but at this point, bases was not the subject of it," he said.

Gates said the United States also wants to provide more training for regional armies, to increase their capabilities and make them more professional. Some countries also want aid to buy more U.S. military equipment, but Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says opportunities for that are hindered by the United States' own demand for equipment due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saturday Gates also visited the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which was anchored off the Suriname coast on the final day of a four-month, 12-nation mission in Central and South America. The ship's civilian and military crew provided medical treatment to nearly 100,000 people during the trip, including 1,100 who needed surgery.


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