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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 14, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 203
Jo Stuart
About us
Villalobos suspends operations
Posted at 2:15 p.m. Monday

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho issued a statement about 11:50 a.m. today in which he said he was closing his investment operations temporarily until he can resolve his situation with the Costa Rican courts.

He said it was impossible to continue working as normal while his bank accounts remain frozen.

He asked his creditors to maintain their understanding, their discretion and their confidence because he will do all that is necessary to pay his debts.

He asked Almighty God to provide the strength necessary so that this economic constriction does not hurt anyone. 

A.M. Costa Rica will publish the full text of the

Villalobos statement in the newspaper of Tuesday. That should be online about 2 a.m. Tuesday Costa Rican time, which is equal to U.S. mountain daylight time.

The Villalobos office at the Mall San Pedro did not open this morning 

The money changing operation, Ofinter S.A., that Villalobos says is owned by his brother, Osvaldo, did not open at its locations in Mall San Pedro and downtown San José.

This decision by Villalobos is a serious blow to his clients, mostly North Americans, who were waiting for the late payment of their monthly interest.

Our Friday story is located at


U.S. Embassy provides support
Drug police sweep Talamanca for pot farms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Seguridad Friday finished a 22-day operation to cut down the amount of marijuana reaching the market from the Talamanca region.

The Indian families grow marijuana as a cash crop in the remote highlands of the mountainous region. Ministry officials said their 40 employees found 17 marijuana plantations and destroyed more than a half-million plants.

The ministry said that to offset the hardship of losing their cash crop, the Indians, primarily Bribris and Cabécares, were given more than a ton of beans, and clothes donated from Escazú and other parts of the central valley, plus medical care.

The ministry said the operation was assisted by the U.S. Embassy which provided Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters to bring anti-drug officers into remote regions. The choppers carried agents from the Valle de La Estrella to Alta Talamanca.

Participating in the sweep were the Policía de Control de Drogas and special units of the ministry, including the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Servicio de 

Vigilancia Aérea and the Dirección de Sanidad. Coordination was by the Fiscalia in Limón. 

The Talamanca region is in the southeast of the country and it is known for its cultivation of marijuana which provides one of the few cash crops for Indians there. Police announced their sweep a day before the Día de las Culturas, which is a celebration of Indian life.

Police have been conducting such raids since 1998 and say they have destroyed more than seven million marijuana plants. This operation, the 11th, was called "Cielos Centrales" or Central Skies.

The ministry said that 160 Indian families received the food. In addition, some medical aid and vaccinations were provided. The Comando de La Estrella, an Indian unit, also participated to translate between the police and the Indian residents, many of whom do not speak Spanish.

Police searched the forests of Cerro Espino, Shorbata, Faldas de Cerro Tigre, Guayabal and Palenque de Telire as well as Piedra Mesa.

Police also found and confiscated three small sacks of chopped marijuana weighing 1.7 kilos each (3.75 pounds). They also found two .22-caliber rifles and a pistol.


A Transito
officer removes plates of José Fernando Artavia Mora,
a taxi pirate, while 
another writes
him a ticket.

A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
The pirate way of life is filled with problems
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hailing a taxi is a daily occurrence for people in the San José metropolitan area. Tourists and locals alike rely on the fleet of red cars as an inexpensive and reliable way to get around.

Looming among the plethora of chauffeurs for hire that crowd area roadways are "taxi piratas," drivers operating without taxi licenses. 

The Policia de Transito is taking part in an operation to eliminate these clandestine drivers. Ronny Vargas, a transit officer, estimates there are at least 2,000 pirates on the road. 

José Fernando Artavia Mora had been driving a taxi for seven years before being pulled over Friday by the Policia de Transito on Avenida 2. Officers confiscated Artavia’s license plates and gave him a ticket for 20,000 colons, about $54.

Legal taxistas are certified by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte. Their vehicles can be identified by yellow, triangular emblems located on the doors. The triangle contains a taxi number that, along with the license plate number, can be used to report drivers to the taxi company when a passenger receives bad service.

The licenses are renewed by the ministry annually. Applying for the first license is a long, arduous process. In the past, the ministry has used a lottery to decide who receives one. Winning drivers must complete a one-week training course and pay $500. 

The licensing process is plagued with problems. For the past year, the ministry has promised to issue around 5,000 new licenses. Due to protests from a large group of applicants, this has been put on hold indefinitely.

This is a familiar song to drivers: Some wait years, only never to receive a license. Numerous drivers say that for a small bribe, applicants can get to the top of the list.

Drivers also claim that nationals get preferential treatment, severely limiting the chances for legal emigrants such as Nicaraguans. For these reasons, most taxi drivers start out working as pirates to earn money while waiting for their licenses.

Since driving a cab is one of the few honest ways for unskilled laborers to make a decent wage in this city, the licenses are in high demand. When asked how many people apply for licenses each year, Hendric Peralta, a Nicaraguan who has been sharing a cab with his brother for the past six years, answered: "Imagine." One cabbie said the office receives over 10,000 applicants every year.

Licensed drivers are required to use a computerized meter, called marías, for trips of 12 kilometers or less. When a passenger enters the car, the driver should immediately press a button and a "220" should appear on the meter. That shows the number of colons owed, in this case about 60 U.S. cents. For longer trips, such as airport runs, common practice is for the passenger to agree on a rate with the driver beforehand.

Pirates operate in a different manner. They frequently don’t have meters and resort to less scientific methods to figure out what to charge passengers. Some roughly calculate the rate using the odometer, while others will ask the passenger what it usually costs them.

By accepting a ride from illicit drivers, a passenger surrenders his or her rights to complain. The fact that a taxi is unlicensed doesn’t seem to faze seasoned residents of this city, especially during wet weather or after waiting for a long time for a cab.

There are horror stories of passengers getting overcharged. But, this occurs with legal as well as illegal cabdrivers.

Jill Anderson, a Tica from Moravia, uses a sixth sense before accepting a ride from an authorized cabbie: "I always look at the driver’s face to make sure he’s trustworthy."

She offered this advice to people riding in all taxis: "Sit close to the door with the window open."

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A tow truck awaits the inevitable at a confusing intersection in Sabana Sur.
A meeting place for bumpers in Sabana Sur
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The complex intersection in Sabana Sur near Universal and McDonald’s racked up three more car accidents last week.

The crossroads is a meeting place for traffic coming from one of five directions. The part in the middle — the crossing point — resembles a scene from a destruction derby, as depicted in the popular Playstation computer game.

In all three accidents, the cars collided head-on. One occurred Tuesday, another Wednesday, and the last, Thursday.

Damage in the first accident was relatively severe. It involved a taxi and a passenger car. The front of the taxi sustained major structural damage. The car, in comparison, was dented mildly, though considerable superficial scrapes were evident.

In the case of the Wednesday accident, the collision involved a car and a four-by-four. Damage here was nominal. 

The ironic part is two of the accidents occurred at almost the same time (around 12:10 p.m.) and in the same spot. Positionally, it appeared that, in the case of both accidents, the cars were headed in similar directions. That is, the cars' locations after the collisions were close to the sidewalk that lies directly in front of the corner façade of McDonald’s.

The third accident involved a car and four-by-four. This time the accident occurred nearer to the middle of the crossroads around 5:50 p.m. 

But the accident again appeared as if it had happened head-on. The  cars’ drivers talked with traffic inspector Milton Martin.

Martin said that there are about 100 vehicle accidents per day in all of San José. He also said that the Sabana point was a particularly bad location. 

One of the drivers, Jorge Durán, from the Thursday accident commented that, although this was his first accident at the Sabana crossroads, he did think this was a difficult place to drive. The other driver, Jorge Hernandez, said that this was his first time driving in the Sabana area.

Bystanders commented that accidents here are frequent. Moreover, they said that being a pedestrian in this area is particularly precarious. 

There are a number of prominent commercial buildings in the area, as well as schools, offices and residential areas.

A railway line also crosses the path of the crossroads. There are separate traffic lights for the trains, but they aren’t utilized too often. Instead, the trains frequently use horns to create awareness of their presence. Martin added that this was one of the main problems with the Sabana crossroads.

Shortly before Martin was finished noting down the details of the Thursday accident with the two drivers, a policeman arrived on his motorcycle.

The policeman surveyed the scene with a measuring tape and exchanged a few words with Martin, before speeding off on his bike.

Another round of delays to Pacheco's tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The committee that was supposed to come up with an interim tax plan cannot reach accord, and the emergency proposal might be dumped into the full Asemblea Nacional.

The committee in which the major political parties are represented thought it had an accord, but Friday members of the Movimiento Libertario balked. The politicians will seek to craft an accord today, perhaps for the last time.

The proposal by the committee, involves a number of new taxes, including a $200 annual tax on each Costa Rica corporation regardless of profitability.

The proposal also would levy stiff taxes of $500 on each computer terminal operated by offshore betting operations as well as similar taxes on each gaming table in each casino and on each slot machine.

Cigarettes and alcohol also will see increases in taxes. Offshore casino operations say they are facing millions in new taxes and probably will leave the country.

Some casino consultants Friday suggested that the Pacheco government might be willing to sacrifice the offshore Internet betting operations in exchange for some quick money to balance the budget. 

Most agree that the companies would need several months to relocate and would have to pay the taxes during that period. The industry employees about 10,000 persons here.

The Movimiento Libertario is seeking stiff controls on government expenditures to avoid the kind of deficit spending that has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. 

But even as deputies were meeting on the tax plan last week, the Consejo de Gobierno, the president’s cabinet, was approving a plan to end child labor by providing cash and housing to each family that had an underage child working.

(See story BELOW!)

The government also has a plan to regard rice farmers as part of an accord that was developed earlier this year when the arrival of a U.S. ship filled with cheap rice generated protests. 

Robbers are trigger-happy over the weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Robbers gunned down a 33-year-old Argentinean woman Friday night as she walked with three friends in San Pedro Montes de Oca.

Meanwhile in Rohrmoser, three robbers shot but did not kill a man, 45, who was walking there. In Alajuela, a 20-year-old man with a knife was cut down by two bullets in the chest.

All this happened Friday night between 9 and 10:25, according to police.

The shooting in San Pedro took place when the woman was walking home from a restaurant to her apartment in Lourdes de Montes de Oca. Three men in a car confronted her and her three female companions and tried to take their purses. For some reason, one robber shot the woman once in the head. She was identified by police as Daniela Castro Barosca.

She was described as a tourist, although she had been in the country about a year, said associates.

Police identified the man who was shot in Rohrmoser as Rodolfo Núñez Navarro. He suffered a bullet wound to the upper leg.

There were three assailants in this shooting, too, but the men were not the same because the crimes happened within a few minutes of each other, about 10:25 p.m., according to police. Rohrmoser is on the west side of San José and San Pedro is to the east.

The man who was shot in Alajuela may have been a robber. Police said the shooting was the result of a fight, but others said that two persons, a man and a woman were walking in Monserrat near the Catholic church there and were confronted by a robber with a knife.

The male victim pulled a gun and shot the robber twice in the chest, they said.

Police identified the dead man as Gabriel Araya Saavedra, 20, but the man and the woman had fled. Sources said that Araya still clutched a knife in his hand. This shooting happened about 9 p.m.

Methane may hold
key to global warming

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While many scientists and policy makers have focused on how heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are altering the global climate, several new studies report that both air pollution and global warming could be significantly reduced by controlling emissions of methane gas and black carbon soot. 

The study also says that limiting activities like urban sprawl and deforestation that cause land surface changes could also help.

Reports by NASA, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the Argonne National Laboratory suggest that the reduction of methane emissions and soot could yield a major near-term success story in the battle against global warming, providing time to work on technologies to reduce future carbon dioxide emissions.

And a new international study argues that human-caused land surface changes in places like North America, Europe and southeast Asia are distributing heat in the atmosphere both regionally and globally, and may actually have a greater impact on climate than do all greenhouse gases released by human activities.

Researchers have shown that global warming in recent decades has probably been caused by carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, but also by other greenhouse gases such as methane and tropospheric ozone — a principal ingredient of smog — and by soot particles.

In a paper appearing in a recent issue of the journal Science, researchers said that dark soot particles — a product of incomplete combustion — absorb sunlight, heating the air and reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. 

Diesel-powered trucks and buses are primary sources of airborne soot in the United States. But even larger amounts of soot occur in developing countries like China and India, where much of household cooking and heating is fueled with wood, crop and animal wastes and coal, at a low temperature that does not allow for complete combustion.

The authors of the Science study — James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and Surabi Menon of Columbia University — also found that black carbon soot can alter large-scale atmospheric circulation and the hydrologic cycle of a region. 

"As we’ve learned more about the amount of black carbon emitted by countries like China and India, it appears that soot could have important climate effects, and that those effects may be almost as much as those of carbon dioxide," said Michael Bergin, assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Bergin also said that it could take only weeks or months to remove soot particles from the atmosphere, while carbon dioxide can linger for hundreds of years. He added, however, that little is known about the worldwide impact of soot emissions or even how best to measure them, and that better computer models are needed to determine how the particles affect global climate change.

He said if it is found that soot emissions do in fact play a large role in global warming, that could shift increased responsibility for curbing climate-changing pollution to developing countries like China and India.

New case made for 
U.S. efforts in Colombia 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Changing conditions in Colombia have prompted the United States to expand its support for that Andean nation, says Thomas Shannon, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

But Rep. Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, cautioned that if current U.S. support levels are to be sustained Alvaro Uribe, the new Colombian president, must demonstrate progress in his administration's efforts to reassert state sovereignty and establish the rule of law in Colombia.

Shannon and Souder were among the speakers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday to discuss U.S. involvement in Colombia.

Shannon opened his remarks by stressing that "Colombia is a democratic state under assault" by narco-terrorist organizations. Although noting that this is ultimately Colombia's fight, he said the United States has a stake in seeing the government succeed.

"We do have a national interest in Colombia ... a national interest in the government's ability to gain control of their territory, eliminate drug production and trafficking, consolidate democratic institutions and defend and ensure the protection of basic human rights for all Colombian citizens," he said.

Shannon noted that under the auspices of Plan Colombia and later the Andean Regional Initiative, the U.S. has provided principally security assistance to the Colombian armed forces and national police to assist them in establishing control of the nation's territory and eliminating drug production and trafficking.

He said U.S. assistance to Colombia also traditionally has supported the strengthening of democratic institutions and development of sustainable economic alternatives to illicit coca cultivation in Colombia.

Changing conditions in Colombia, however, have prompted a reassessment of U.S. assistance to that nation, Shannon said.

U.S. recognition of such factors as the moribund nature of Colombia's peace process, the emergence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia as a narco-terrorist organization, the clear rejection of those forces by the Colombian people, the increased involvement of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia in drug trafficking, and that group's designation as a terrorist organization prompted "a fundamental shift" in U.S. policy toward Colombia, according to Shannon.

U.S. support for institution building and economic development in Colombia and its neighbors will remain an important component of U.S. policy, Shannon said. What has changed in terms of U.S. policy, he indicated, is that the United States now recognizes that Colombia needs to adopt a combined counter-drug and counter-terrorism approach that reflects the nation's new reality.

The Bush administration's request for almost $100 million for oil pipeline protection in Colombia was a "significant" first step in supporting the nation's counter-terrorism efforts, Shannon said.

New counter-terrorism funding approved this year by the U.S. Congress further supports this shift by lifting the restriction that previously limited U.S. assistance to Colombia to counter-narcotics efforts and now allows counter-terrorism assistance as well.

The evolution of U.S. policy toward Colombia will not be reflected immediately in terms of U.S. equipment on the battlefield, Shannon said, but will translate into increased U.S. intelligence sharing with Colombian forces that should provide a tactical advantage in the military's future confrontations with the nation's terrorist groups.

Chavez supporters
respond to naysayers

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARCAS, Venezuela — Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched Sunday here to show their support for Hugo Chavez, the populist president. The demonstration came just three days after the opposition mobilized its own massive march calling on Chavez to resign. But addressing the marchers Sunday, Chavez vowed to remain in power.

The march Sunday was festive, as pro-Chavez supporters chanted, danced to salsa music, and waved blue, yellow and red Venezuelan flags. Many wore red berets in imitation of Chavez, a former army paratrooper and unsuccessful coup leader who was elected president in 1998.

The demonstration, billed as the March for Peace and Democracy, was organized to celebrate Chavez's return to power after he was deposed briefly in April. Elements of the military overthrew Chavez after violence broke out on April 11 following an opposition protest. Loyalist troops and his supporters returned him to office within 48 hours. 

On Thursday, Venezuelan opposition groups mobilized an estimated one million people to march here, demanding Chavez resign or call early elections. They set an Oct. 15 deadline for Chavez to meet their demands, or face a general strike on Oct. 21. 

The Venezuelan leader, wearing a red beret and the Venezuelan flag draped around his back like a cape, participated in Sunday's march, often climbing down from his vehicle to mingle with the crowd. Later, addressing the huge crowd without the flag on his shoulders, 

Chavez rejected the opposition demands for early elections. He said there will be no presidential elections until December 2006. He went on to warn those who may be plotting to overthrow him that the Venezuelan people will defend the revolution. Chavez also poked fun at the opposition demands that he step down later this week, or face a general strike. To massive cheers, he vowed to stay in power. 

 "I will resign," he said, "I will resign from taking any action that betrays the will of the Venezuelan people."

Chavez has offered to submit to a recall referendum as provided for under the constitution, but not until August 2003. But the opposition, made up of business, labor and civic groups, says this is too long to wait, claiming Chavez's populist policies have undermined the economy of the oil rich nation.

New terror threats
incite world warning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department has issued a new worldwide caution public announcement. 

The new caution is in response to recent audiotape threats attributed to Osama Bin Laden. The government says that it has received credible threats to American interests around the world. The danger comes from extremist terrorist groups and individuals.

The U.S. government is warning all Americans to be vigilant and on guard for possible attacks. Especially at risk are Americans abroad, the announcement said.

The government is warning Americans that terrorists may choose un-official sites to strike, because official buildings will display increased security. While an embassy’s security might deter attackers the relatively susceptible American club meeting may draw a terrorists attention, according to the announcement.

The cautionary announcement pointed to “softer targets” as likely targets. “Softer targets” are anywhere Americans are known to congregate. They could be clubs, restaurants, houses of worship, or schools.  The announcement warns Americans to be aware of their surroundings when they attend known American-hangouts, or avoid them, or switch events to less visible locations.

Another threat is that Americans may be the targets of kidnappings and assassinations, says the announcement. The caution urges Americans to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

Miss Costa Rica to forego Nigerian beauty contest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Miss Costa Rica World 2002 will not compete in the international contest in Nigeria in December.

The woman, Shirley Álvare, announced this Thursday night on Channel 7 Teletica’s news show. The television station is the franchise holder in Costa Rica for the competition.

There is world protest aimed at Nigeria because a sentence of death against Amina Lawal has been upheld at the highest judicial level. The sentence is to be carried out by stoning on a charge of adultery. The woman has a child out of wedlock. The country follows Islamic law.

Lawmakers and judicial officials in Costa Rica had called on the television station to forego participation in the international contest. Other countries also have pulled out.

U.S. trade rep
to visit Costa Rica

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Grant Aldonas, U.S. undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade, will travel to Nicaragua and Costa Rica from Sunday until Thursday in an effort to expand U.S. trade and investment in Central America, according to the Department of Commerce.

In April 2001, President George Bush outlined his vision for fostering a "Century of the Americas," Aldonas said. "Deepening and expanding our commercial relationship with countries of Central America is fundamental to realizing that vision".

In Costa Rica, Aldonas will meet with President Abel Pacheco to discuss the challenges that nation must confront as it prepares, along with its neighbors, to negotiate a U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement.

In Nicaragua, Aldonas will be the keynote speaker at a conference that will bring together other senior U.S. government officials and Central American leaders to discuss the modernization of the region's economy.

U.S. trade negotiations with Central America are likely to begin in the next few months, said the commerce department. Aldonas indicated that he looked forward to "working with the leaders of Central America to extend the benefits of free trade."

Florida company helps
Ticos get visas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Texas-based company is sending mass e-mails to Costa Ricans offering to assist them in the application process for the U.S. Congress-mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

A man who identified himself as John Curry of Comports.com is fishing for Costa Ricans who are curious about the diversity immigration program. If they respond to his initial e-mail, they will be contacted by Barry Gazzard, who, according to his website, is the president of the Florida-based company Libertyvisa.com.

Gazzard is offering to help people complete the application for the immigration program correctly.  His price ranges from $39 U.S. dollars to $99 U.S. dollars depending on the amount of applicants a person wants him to help and over how many drawings a person wants him to handle. He later advises of discounts.

The application process for the Immigration Diversity Visa Program is very technical and   requires strict adherence to its guidelines. If any of  the guidelines are not met the applicant will be automatically discarded from the process. Some rules deal in such minutia as the size of the   envelope. However, all of the rules are available at the U.S. Embassy website, http://usembassy.or.cr/.

Where a person sends their application depends on the region of their native country. People must be sure to send the application to the right location or they will be disqualified. If applications were received before noon last Monday, or are not received by noon on Nov. 6 then the applicant will   be disqualified. This gives applicants a month-long   window to submit the form.

The program makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to people who can prove they are native to a country that does not already   send high quantities of immigrants through other channels. People from countries that have sent 50,000 or more people over the last five years are not eligible to qualify for this program. 

Costa Ricans are eligible for the program, and may even be awarded special status under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act, which ensures that 5,000 visas are awarded to Central Americans annually. Central Americans will be granted this status indefinitely. 

The U.S. embassy website says that second parties are not required in the application process, but can be used. One of the rules requires that only one application be submitted per person or the applicant could face disqualification, so a person cannot use a second party like Gazzard and submit another entry on their own.
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Government turns attention to child labor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government has launched a new initiative to eliminate child labor in Costa Rica, and officials said they are counting on the new tax plan to pay for the effort.

The Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social estimated that there are 72,000 youngsters under age 16 working in the country. The government plans to find out who these chidren are and provide money to their families and training for the parents to eliminate the need for child labor, Ovidio Pacheco, minister of Trabajo told the Consejo de Gobierno last week.

Lineth Saborío, acting president in the absence of President Abel Pacheco, called upon deputies to quickly approve a proposed plan for new taxes in order to provide the funds for this project.

Ministry officials said that a pilot project to eliminate child labor has been started along the Gulf of Nicoya where some 400 underage youngsters are at work collecting shellfish.

In Costa Rica children younger than 15 are not legally permitted to work at all. They are supposed to be in school.

Ovidio Pacheco, the minister, said a telephone number had been set up so citizens can report cases of underage children working: 233-5003. The minister said that this number was not designed so that the parents or others would face legal action, simply so that help could be 

provided to the families to eliminate the need for the youngsters to work.

There are about 140,000 economically active youngsters under the age of 18 in the country, based on the most recent census.

Once families are identified, officials plan to enlist the aid of the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social to provide assistance and the aid of the Ministerio de Vivienda and the Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda to construct housing for the families, said officials.

Based on the ministry figures, and considering underaged working children of from two to three per family, the project would involved from 24,000 to 36,000 families.

Based on minimal aid of $200  a month to each family, the government is considering a project that may cost up to $86.4 million a year.

Presumabily the government will make some consideration for the program in the new budget that will be considered soon by the Asemblea Nacional.

This is the first proposal for new initiatives stemming from the proposal for new taxes. 

Officials have said an emergency tax plan and a long-range change in the tax code were being done to eliiminate deficit spending by the Costa Rican government. The government spends 130 colons for every 100 colons it recieves as income and finances the difference with debt.

A debate participant extends an olive branch
Dear Readers,

I would like to take this time to apologize for some of the comments made about Costa Rica. These situations happened to us and other North Americans who we know. Please do not take them personally, they are just opinions.

We do know some wonderful and helpful Costa Ricans. But, we have had a lot of unpleasant situations here, one right after another. If you haven't experienced any, then you are very lucky. Yes, crime and corruption is worldwide, but it is a serious problem here.

The article was written out of frustration only, and is not intended to influence or to change opinions. If this offended many, please let me apologize to you.

This is one of the most beautiful countries that I have seen and when outside of the city, the people are not so crazy (as in all cities). We have been to some of the beautiful hotels and loved being there.

One thing that I do need to suggest is that the general population does need to be educated about tourism. This is how this country makes money. A lot of foreigners have had the same experiences as us and their opinions are the same.

If the officials could do something to make this country safer, with less crime, it would be a lot better for all.

Anyways, thank you for reading this,

Alisen Rocharde

More letters to Mr. Rochards from peeved reader
There is an obvious element in the letter regarding Mr. Rouchard's discontent in Costa Rica — he doesn't speak Spanish.

He mentions having an interpreter to visit customs and his friends being largely gringos. Speaking Spanish is the key to making friends among the Tico population. If you do not speak the language of the country I am not sure how you could have a good experience.

First off, the coolest Ticos I know, and there are many, are people involved in community service. Few of them speak English, as that is not the community they are serving.

I have actively participated in community affairs since my Spanish became adequate and the quality of people I have met in Costa Rica has been amazing. My experience was that when I didn't speak much Spanish I had a tendency to meet people who were taking advantage a lot more.

Until I started speaking Spanish I was vulnerable in every transaction. I had the cultural and language disadvantage. Anyone who doesn't speak Spanish is doomed to be confused, frustrated and isolated. I imagine that immigrants from any country to another feel the same way.

Without basic skills in the language of the country one resides in one can barely understand, assimilate or come to terms with another culture. In fact, without an understanding of the language one can barely count one's self as a member of the community at all.

I would be the first to say that Costa Rica isn't perfect and has its problems. Living here has not been an easy thing for me either at times. But the secret to being happy here for me has been learning the language. 

How can a person living on the very fringes of a society, unable to speak it's language, unable to interact directly with its people, unable to even get a feel for the thoughts, ideas or beliefs of its members — how can they judge it? How can they find a place in it?

In the United States, the people who do not speak English are marginal members of the society at best. They are confined to their own community, distrustful of others, often being cheated and conned by those who have the language or cultural advantage. It is common all over the world.  People who do not speak the language of a culture are outsiders with no hope of integrating.  Learning to speak another language is not easy.

I have been amazed at how tolerant Ticos are of my language skills. I have publicly put my foot in my mouth more than once and instead of anyone taking offense at my blunders they have all been extremely supportive. I imagine this is the difference between someone who makes a real effort to learn the language, interact with the community and be a part of the society.

I can say that I have found a broad support in the Costa Rican community and have many wonderful friends. And while it is not generally their IQ that has attracted me to my many friends here, I can vouch for the fact that there are plenty of high IQ people in the country . . . But Mr. Rouchard will never have the chance to meet or know them as he doesn't speak their language.

Best warm wishes,
Robbie Felix
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Again, stirring controversy has nothing to do with it. If Mr. Rochard's argument had one ounce of intellect attached I might agree. But he cried wolf and then claims his heady argumentative skills are to credit for the arrival of the shepherd...

Case closed.

Ryan Daley
Los Yoses, San Pedro

I didn't consider it worth my time replying to Mr. Rochard's diatribe, but since he persists in insisting he's right and all the rest of us are the ones who are unaware and incapable of seeing all the evils in Costa Rica, I feel obliged to reply.

The mark of an educated person is that he or she doesn't make gross generalizations. When I hear someone with an obviously limited knowledge of a culture and its people begin to make generalizations (Ticos have the worst diet in the world; Tico children aren't taught to think, only memorize; etc., etc., etc), it is clear where their biases are coming from.

Anyone who has lived in many parts of the world as our persistent writer claims to have should have learned that there are people of all variations in every culture. However, this understanding is only reached if that person has made a real effort to learn the language and culture of other countries by making friends and associating with the people who live there.

Although Rochard told us he needed an interpreter in his earlier letter, he now claims to have a knowledge of the language. He certainly doesn't understand the culture, either.

So many of his generalizations are totally inaccurate and obviously based on a very limited understanding of Costa Ricans. For example, if he ever went to an open market (feria) as we do on Saturdays, he would see that the diet of Costa Ricans contains largely fruits and vegetables.

That Ticos are becoming more susceptible to diabetes makes them no different from people in other countries, particularly the U.S., where high fat, fast food diets make the disease more and more common. In fact, it is the U.S. fast food industry that is becoming more and more common here, with its ability to attract young kids with toys and games.

If he wants to see real health problems due to overweight and bad diet, he should return to the U.S. Speaking of returning to the U.S. it is good that he is doing so, as it's clear he will never be happy here.

It's doubtful that he knows many non-English-speaking Ticos. He is probably too biased to make friends with any. He certainly doesn't appreciate the culture here and its different values, and never will, because he is so sure he has made his assessment of it and its people.

Jean R. Redmond
La Guaria, Moravia

Obviously you need to get the hell out of Costa Rica, if you hate it that much. That doesn't give you the right to bash Costa Rica or Costa Ricans in general.

The fact that you were looking for some sort of Disney World utopia in Costa Rica and couldn't find it, and complained about it like a little girl makes you a prime candidate for a stroke.

I'm a naturalized American citizen from Costa Rica, and you know what, I love America, just as much as I love Costa Rica. I would never "dis" America the way you are disrespecting Costa Rica. I know everything in the U.S. is not perfect yet I don't write to the local newspaper bitching and moaning about this and that.

I think you need to go to one of those retirement communities, buy yourself a cute little mobile home on the corner and relax; or move to the D.C. area; I hear there's a crazy guy shooting people.

Mauricio G.
Orlando, FL

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