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These stories first were published Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001

 
Immigration sweeps for foreigners in Pacific towns
First-world 'perpetual tourists'
being targeted, deported

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican immigration officials are cracking down on foreigners who have overstayed their tourist visa or otherwise do not have the legal right to be in Costa Rica.

A crackdown took place starting Oct. 2 in Playas del Coco that swept up the owner of a bar and a Swiss resident, according to sources there.

A Tamarindo restaurant owner was deported about the same time, said sources.

The sweep generated unhappiness among tourism business owners because they felt the actions were unjustified at a time when the industry is struggling. Some of those detained have significant business investments in the communities.

The sweep also involves real tourists. One tourist said in San José Tuesday that he was grabbed by an immigration official in Playas del Coco a half hour after arriving in the town. He said he spent two hours at the downtown immigration office while copies of his passport were FAXed to a number of locations in the country. He was legal, although he had entered Costa Rica several times since Jan. 1.

The tourist said a U.S. citizen detained with him did not have the correct entrance stamps in his passport and he had to go to the Nicaraguan border to legalize the paperwork.

At least two persons in Playas del Coco ended up spending a night in detention in Liberia and the next day in a prison in San José. Both are believed to have gotten out of jail after their lawyers filed appeals with the courts.

This is the first time in memory that the immigration officials have cracked down on citizens who come from "rich countries," one Coco business owner said. 

"They have checked out everyone they could check out," said the business owner, who said the immigration agents were being mean and petty.

A year ago Costa Rican officials vowed to crack down on First-world tourists who have overstayed their 90-day tourist visa. Some so-called "perpetual tourists" live in the country and leave only for three days at the end of each 90-day period to renew their tourist visa. In the past, these people were not bothered unless they were involved in some other incident.

Some first-world "tourists" failed to leave and renew their visas, but they legalized their status when they did have to leave the country by paying a fine.

The news reports of the promised crack down led to a flurry of filings as illegal residents from First-World countries sought to legalize their status as investors, persons on pensions or other immigration categories. Lawyers in San José who specialize in immigration reported a doubling or tripling of applicants.

Some in Coco speculated that the immigration sweep might have had something to do with the 

The bells are ringing
for illegal tourists

by the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Love (or at least marriage) is motivated by many things: physical attraction, money and, yes, nationality.

And there is a lot of love and marriage showing up on the western Pacific beaches as technically illegal business owners tie the knot with a Costa Rican and thereby gain the right to stay in the country.

One business owner, grabbed in an immigration sweep two weeks ago has already tied the knot, said sources in Playas del Coco.

Love is breaking out all over the Pacific communities, thanks to Cupid dressed as an immigration agent, said business owners.

terrorist attacks Sept. 11 in the United States or with a series of drug rings that have been broken up by police there. But business owners in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula said Monday night that immigration agents conducted a similar sweep there against foreigners two months ago. They said Montezuma, Cóbano, Mal Pais and other well-known tourist spots felt the weight of the immigration raids.

This is the low season for tourism on the peninsula as well as elsewhere in Costa Rica. The tight economic times are exaggerated by after effects of the U.S. terrorism. Business owners on the peninsula said that business was close to zero and much lower than normal even during an off-season.

That is part of the reason the business people were upset with the raids.

One hotel owner said she was on vacation when immigration agents arrived at her hotel and demanded an accounting of occupants in all the hotel rooms. 

Then, the owner said, the agents demanded entry into the owner's locked private home located on the same property. They were unable to enter the home because no one had a key, said the owner.

Playas del Coco is on the Pacific coast on the northwest corner of the Nicoya Peninsula. Montezuma and Mal Pais are at the tip of the peninsula.


 
Mail handlers here put on gloves and masks  to avoid anthrax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
with contributions by wire services

Costa Rican mail handlers donned masks and rubber gloves Tuesday as fears of anthrax-laced letters reached Costa Rica.

Letters containing anthrax spores arrived at the offices of a number of news outlets in the United States over the last month, and officials are unsure if the efforts are connected with foreign terrorists.

A bottle of powder caused an alarm Tuesday morning at Juan Santamaría Airport, but the Judicial Investigating Organization described the event later as "nothing."

The gloves and masks were donned by workers at Star Box in Escazú. This is one of the handful of firms that carry mail from postal boxes in Miami to individual customers in Costa Rica. The gloves were of the latex medical variety, and the masks were of the type used to screen out dust.

Employees said they disliked working under the new conditions because of the hot weather. It could not be determined if similar precautions were in effect at other companies and Correos de Costa Rica. 

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have found similarities in anthrax cases in New York City and Washington, but have yet to uncover links between the cases and what they call "organized terrorism." 

U.S. authorities say there was similar handwriting 

and the same Trenton, New Jersey, postmark on letters containing anthrax sent to Senate Majority
Leader Tom Daschle's office in Washington and to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw in New York. 

An assistant to Brokaw has been diagnosed with an anthrax skin infection, but is expected to recover. In Washington, no one has tested positive for exposure to anthrax bacteria from the package opened in Daschle's office Monday. 

The anthrax in that case has been described as extremely potent. 

The seven-month old child of an ABC news employee who also contracted the skin form of anthrax is expected to make a full recovery.

Speaking on U.S. television Tuesday, the director of the newly created Office of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, said fighting bio-terrorism will be the first priority of the U.S. government in the coming weeks. 

Ridge said there is no credible evidence linking the anthrax cases to Osama bin Laden, but that the United States should operate under the "presumption" that there is a link. 

Out of four diagnosed cases of anthrax in recent weeks in the United States, one man, a Florida tabloid photo editor, was killed after contracting inhaled anthrax. Nine other persons tested positive for exposure to anthrax, amid hundreds of reports of suspicious letters and powdery substances. 


 
U.S. official promises to fight 'terrorist' groups in Colombia
From A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. State Department's chief of counter-terrorism says the United States will fight terrorism in the Western Hemisphere "with all the elements of our national power." 

Francis Taylor spoke with reporters following a closed door briefing at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington. 

The State Department said there are four terrorist organizations in the hemisphere. Three of them are in Colombia. Taylor said they "will get the same treatment as any other terrorist group." He refused to discuss details of the anti-terrorism effort. 

The three Colombian terrorist groups are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). 

The United States is helping the Colombian Army with an aid package totaling more than one billion dollars, most of it for training and equipment, such as helicopters. 

The Bush administration began "Plan Colombia", to help the Bogota government fight the drug trade. But members of Congress as saying last month's terrorist attacks in the United States may make it difficult to distinguish between fighting drug traffickers and fighting terrorists.


 
Final anti-terrorism bill rests with House-Senate committee
Special to A.M.  Costa Rica

WASHINGTON The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly passed a pair of bills that expand law enforcement powers in the fight against terrorism and tighten aviation security. The House of Representatives has approved a companion, but different, anti-terrorism bill.

Disagreements over whether or not to federalize the jobs of airport baggage checkers stalled final House action on the second measure, however.

The Senate anti-terrorism legislation passed, 96-1, late Thursday. It would broaden the ability of law enforcement agencies to wiretap suspected terrorists, share intelligence information, and prosecute persons who knowingly harbor terrorists.

The other Senate bill, also passed Thursday, 100-0, would create a new, federalized force of baggage screeners, put armed federal guards at key checkpoints, and increase sharply the number of plainclothes "sky marshals" on commercial flights.

The House anti-terrorism bill passed 337-79 Friday.

The measure stirred substantial debate after Republican House leaders sought to drop the version that had been proceeding through that chamber in favor of the one passed by the Senate and approved by the White House. Some legislators argued this bill would endanger to civil liberties.

The Senate version, for example, would establish the new wiretapping authorities permanently, while House members favored a five-year expiration date on some of them.

"This could be the Gulf of Tonkin resolution for civil liberties, instead of a measure meant to fight terrorism," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). His analogy was to the resolution passed by the Senate in 1964 that  gave President Lyndon Johnson broad powers in prosecuting the Vietnam war.

House Majority Leader Richard Armey, a Republican, declared, "A good government makes 
 

the people secure while preserving their freedom, and that is what this bill does."

The sunset issue and other differences between the House and Senate versions still must be resolved, most likely by a Senate-House conference committee, before a final bill can be sent to President Bush to sign into law.

A second key difference is that the Senate bill includes a money-laundering provision that the House measure omits. Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, a Democrat, said before the House acted, "We will not support a counterterrorism bill that does not have money laundering provisions in it.... It must be done, and we will insist that it be done."

"Money laundering" refers to transactions designed to obscure the origin and ownership of illicit funds.

As for the air safety measure, House members remained seriously divided over the provision of the Senate bill that would federalize airport security personnel.

Many Democrats insist that turning over security to federal operation is vital to improve what they say has been spotty performance by low-paid, under-trained baggage checkers.

But Republicans, who control the House, are concerned about expanding the federal workforce so significantly. They say they will not bring the bill to the floor until they are sure they can pass a version favored by the White House that would keep the screeners in the private sector, even while extending federal controls over their supervision. .

White House officials said Friday that President Bush could well tighten air security by executive order bypassing Congress entirely if the legislature does not undo the Senate provisions. 

Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush has authority to order stronger cockpit doors, add air marshals and tighten standards for the hiring and training of baggage screeners.

Peronists post big gains in both houses of Argentina's legislature
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The opposition Peronist party has made large gains in Sunday's legislative elections in Argentina. The Peronists now hold majorities in both the Senate and lower House. They held onto their 39-seat majority in the Senate and gained 14 seats in the House, while President Fernando de la Rua's Alliance lost 11 seats in the House. 

Reports from Argentina are speculating about what the results may mean for President de la Rua's unpopular austerity measures, which he hopes will pull Argentina out of its economic slump. His program of spending cuts and tax increases have been widely unpopular and have led to repeated street demonstrations and strikes. 

Just before leaving for a trip to Spain, the president said new economic measures will be announced when he returns. 

An unusually high number of spoiled or blank ballots were cast in Sunday's election, indicating popular dissatisfaction with the county's leaders across the board. One report puts the nationwide total of blank ballots at 15 per cent and was as high as 40 per cent in some provinces. 

Argentina's economy has been in a slump for some years, leading to fears recently that the country might default on payment of its foreign debt. The economic decline has continued despite World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans. 

Recent figures indicate more than a third of Argentines live in poverty and unemployment rates have soared above 16 per cent. 

Spanish king praises language

Spain's King Juan Carlos has called the Spanish language a powerful tool for communication and urged its wider use around the world. The monarch spoke in the northern Spanish city of Valladolid as he opened a four-day conference on Spain, its language and information technology. 

The meeting brings together a number of world leaders, including the presidents of Mexico, Argentina and Columbia, along with Spanish-speaking authors and academics. 

Spanish is the native language for some 400 million people, but only about five percent of all web sites are presented in Spanish.


 
 
 
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