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(506) 2223-1327        Published Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 207       E-mail us
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Sala IV overturns law that just protects women
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court in a split vote overturned two key elements of a law designed to protect women in a decision released Thursday.

One section provides six months to two years prison for anyone who attacks or physically harms a wife or live-in companion when the event is too minor to be handled by other criminal laws.

A second section provides the same penalty for someone who insults, devalues, frightens or embarrasses a wife or female companion in public or in private.

The law was passed May 30, 2007, after a series of
murders of wives and live-in companions by men. At the time, the constitutional issue that the measure just covered women and penalized men  was raised but the politics of the day prevailed.

The Sala IV stipulated that its decision was to be made retroactive, meaning that any men convicted under the crime will go free if they are in prison. The court said that the law set out a series of penalties that violate legal principles that are established for all persons. It stopped short of  addressing the gender issue directly.

Some women used this law to have their husbands or male companions evicted from their home for months. However, other laws, like simple assault, can have the same effect.


Unique U.S. expat survived his financial reverses
By Dan Wise
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Long time resident Garfield George Wagner a familiar imposing presence in the Gringo bar circuit is gone.  "Field," as he was known by his family, was highly visible for years in the San Jose's Downtown scene.  Locals will well remember the immaculately groomed, 6-foot, 4-inch, bigger-than-life guy with the perfect tan, big toothy smile and long blond pony tail.  He always was in a perfectly tailored suit with a crisp white shirt and a bunch of ribbons and an occasional medal on his suit as he went out and about nightly.
 
What most did not know was that the local eligible bachelor was a bona fide war hero.  He was nominated for the Medal of Honor and received the Silver Star, two purple hearts and numerous other ribbons.  Garfield singlehandedly returned over and over through hostile enemy fire and land mines to carry six wounded members of his squad to safety.
 
Born in Flint, Michigan, of a well-known family, he attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana and then served three tours in Vietnam as a member of a 73rd Airborne long-range patrol unit.  He lived in the jungle and captured enemy combatants alive for interrogation.  He once described the job as "something like deer hunting" in an article in the Flint Journal's July 21, 1968, edition.
 
Garfield lived a full life in the Key Biscayne area of Miami and became a very successful stockbroker with Merrill Lynch.  He had a big house and a big boat. He was once featured on the Sally Jessy Raphael show as one of America's most famous eligible bachelors.  He finally got caught at least seven times by his own admission.

In the 1990s when he was a participant in the Villalobos Brothers' high-interest scheme he traveled at times in a limo and with a bodyguard, thanks to the monthly envelopes full of interest in cash.
 
He lived well in San José until his friend Luis Enrique Villalobos stopped paying him for his
Garfield Wagner
frequently wore one of his decorations with his civilian clothes. In this case it is a Purple Heart.
Garfield Wagner


investment. That was in 2002. Then he had to revert to his former army training to survive in the jungles of northern Costa Rica. He lived off the land by fishing and trapping to eat. After steadfastly trusting Enrique, Garfield finally realized in the last days that his money was gone.  It seemed to hit him hard  He took his meager savings, got a custom-tailored suit and went into San José for a final farewell. 

He never complained about his loss and continued to live his life to the fullest even to the end.  Perhaps readers saw him out early in the month.  Garfield spent his last three years in the jungle reading books and talking with me about the world. 

It was my honor to be his friend at the end.  What a man he was.  Things will not be the same around the Río Colorado Lodge without him.  Come to think about it, this stand-up guy who did million dollar deals all of his life on a handshake may have just died of a broken heart, another casualty of the "Brothers."

He checked in to Hospital San Juan de Dios last week and died Oct. 9. He was in his early 60s.



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 207

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Economic pain is part
of damage from storm


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The eyes stare at visitors to one of the many shelters set up to house flooding victims. They have been there before and they are prepared to wait out the disaster.

But there is another dimension that is not visible in the newspaper and television photos of wrecked roads, fallen bridges and buried vehicles. That is the economic dimension of those who must earn their daily bread.

Be it a small family business in Parrita or a major Escazú real estate firm, the storm and its damage is costing money. Highways are blocked. Product and even livestock are being swept away by the flood waters. Many communities cannot be reached.

If business people are shipping prepared vegetable products to San José or planning to show a property in Quepos to visiting buyers, they are out of luck. So are delivery drivers. Tourists are challenged, too.

There is not a lot of relief in sight. The low pressure area over Honduras and unstable conditions in the Pacific are expected to drive the weather through today.

The Interamericana highway at Chomes, Provincia de  Puntarenas, remains closed because of a massive landslide perhaps a quarter mile long. Rescue workers are trying to see if any vehicles with passengers were trapped, but the weather hampers the search.

Cóbano and Paquera on the southern Nicoya Peninsula are believed to be cut off.

Along the coast the tide is coming in as much as 3 meters (10 feet) higher than normal contributing to flooding there, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. The institute also said that rainfall January to September in the Central Valley was greater than in the same set of months since 1944 and that the amount of rain was headed for a record when the remaining months are counted.

As of Thursday 2,100 mm (83 inches) of rain had fallen, far above the annual average of 1,860 (73 inches).  Alajuela, too, appears to be headed for a record, but other parts of the country, Liberia and Quepos, for example, are not. They were hit by the backlash from Hurricane Caesar in 1996.

The national emergency commission said Thursday that some 1,800 persons were in 28 shelters. It estimated that 274 communities had been affected and that 65,000 persons had suffered in some way and 12,000 directly.

The rain has been falling since Sunday, and rivers are far above flood stage. In Parrita, the Río Parrita was close to inundating the deck of the single-lane bridge that connects the community with the south. The river level rose nearly six feet overnight from Wednesday to Thursday. About 100 mm of rain (nearly 4 inches) fell along the Pacific coast and in Guanacaste starting Wednesday night.

Officials with the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said they think that more heavy rain today could cause extensive damage.

The Cruz Roja is working with the emergency commission to reach communities that have been cut off.  A total of six deaths have been attributed the the storm. Two children died in Alajuelita Thursday when a wall fall on them. A motorcyclist died in Monteverde. The Fuerza Pública said all its officers were on duty in the affected areas.

The emergency commission will spend millions to repair the infrastructure after the storm. That includes bridges, sewers, waterlines and even the work of rehabilitating water wells that have been flooded. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte will tackle the roads. Even in one community like Palmares there appears to be hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage with roads and bridges.

So far the dikes at Parrita centro have held. But others have been damaged and need to be repaired.

All this money will come from various government agencies, but the personal loss to homeowners and business people will be their responsibility.

Feng Shui Saturday
at Escazú workshop

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica's Feng Shui experts will be giving a workshop in English in Escazú Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m.

The expert is Iside Sarmiento, who will give tips designed to change the energy patterns  by adding color, clearing unnecessary clutter, utilizing plants, art, mirrors, lighting, water features, the placement of furniture and other tools.

The workshop is $30 or 15,000 colons and those interested can register in advance with payment either at Viento y Agua kiosk store in Multiplaza, Escazú or at 8851-8899/
info@FengShuiCostaRica.com. Day of the event: 8378-6679.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 207

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Final piece of free trade legislation wins approval again
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than a year after Costa Ricans narrowly approved a free trade treaty with the United States, lawmakers gave first approval for a second time to the last piece of enabling legislation.

The favorable vote by 28 lawmakers took place at 6:28 p.m. Thursday, said a legislative source. Now the question is will opponents appeal the measure to the Sala IV constitutional court a second time in an effort to avoid the required second vote of approval.

Ottón Solís, leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and a likely presidential candidate, said his party would bring the case to the court. Leaders in the executive branch said this is not necessary because the measure already has been before the courts and the court outlined a point that appeared to be unconstitutional. This was changed.

The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado appealed to opponents Thursday that they forgo a short-term political vision because thousands of jobs depend on approval of the treaty.

Costa Rica has a deadline of Jan. 1 to approve the measure, which is the last of 13 pieces of legislation that bring the national laws into conformity with the requirements of the treaty. An appeal to the Sala IV could take months.
Although the measure is called an intellectual property bill, it actually has three categories. Rights of authors and other forms of copyright protection comprise one. But there also is a reform of a measure that allows patenting of new plant species and a reform to the existing biodiversity law.

The Sala IV said that Native groups had the right, under international treaties, to comment on some of these aspects. Lawmakers did not seek their input.

Under legislative rules, a proposed law must be approved twice on non-consecutive days. So approval could come next week. But the likelihood is high that an appeal will be made to the Sala IV and that the process will be delayed.

All other Central American countries, the United States and the Dominican Republic have brought the treaty into effect. The U.S. must certify that Costa Rica has made the appropriate changes.

It was Oct. 7, 2007, when the country voted to approve the treaty. A short time later, President Óscar Arias Sánchez signed the document. But still lacking were those 13 pieces of enabling legislation.

One by one they were passed using a rapid process that limited floor debate and prevented filibusters. That process was appealed to the Sala IV, too, but the court found it was legal.


Regulator issues detailed rules for opening telecom market
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's public services regulatory agency is publishing the first three sets of rules for telecom companies. The lengthy documents will be in the official La Gaceta newspaper today, the agency said.

This is the next step in the process of opening the telecommunications market to companies other than those contracted by or belonging to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which held the former government monopoly.

The three sets of rules cover universal access, competitivity and the interconnectivity of communications systems here.
The agency, the Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, said it drew up the rules after a series of public meetings at which 200 persons attended and some spoke.

The rules are amplifications of a law, the Ley General de Telecomunicaciones, passed by the Asamblea Legislativa. The law was part of the changes the government promised to make as part of the free trade treaty with the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic.

The law created new entities whose acronyms soon will be a part of the Costa Rica lexicon. There is the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, known as SUTEL, which is the highest authority in this area. It is made up of elements in the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, which will be known as the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The Superintendencia, among other duties, will control the Fondo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Fonatel), which 
will use a 1.5 to 3 percent tax on communications services to support universal access.

Hannia Vega Barrantes has been named vice minister of Telecomunicaciones. She had been vice minister of Planificación.

One argument raised by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad over the proposed telecom bills was that it had to provide access everywhere, even to places where the terrain or distances made such services unprofitable. It worried that newcomers might cherry pick the most profitable locations and target them. The law and the new rules require companies to provide services even where they are not profitable.

The Fondo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones is a way to compensate them, and the new rules provide elaborate details far beyond what is in the law.

The rules on competition are directed against monopolistic practices, linked sales and other ills of the open market. Much of the text comes from the law.

The interconnectivity section contains a lot of technical details and requires telecom companies to be transparent in the technology they use so that other companies can use the networks. It also requires the companies to keep their networks in good condition.

The Authoridad Reguladora also sets the prices of public services, but the country still is a long way from having a local competitor for the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.


Our reptilian reader checks in with some green wisdom
Judging from the weather in Costa Rica, the world’s climate is indeed changing.  Fog was something very rarely seen in the valley during my first years here.  During the month of October, fog has been as common as the sun.  And it is cold!

For some reason the thermometer that reads 70 degrees F. just doesn’t relate to my sense of cold. 

It’s not just humans who are feeling the difference, many other animals are reacting to the changing climate.  At the North Pole the poor Polar bears are looking for ice floes (not to mention fish), farther south black bears are invading the domain of humans who previously had invaded their domain.  Many are in search of food.  Here and elsewhere little frogs are disappearing.  Probably the only creatures not affected are cockroaches.  Curiously, cockroaches are about the only other non-domesticated creatures we have learned to co-habit with. 

However, one worry other animals do not have to contend with is the financial situation all over the world.  They don’t have to think about their shrinking nest eggs and pension plans or their lost reputations.   At least I didn’t think so, but my good friend Peter, who is also a writer, sent me the following note: 

Our Gecko Asked Me to Write This

Our gecko lives behind the security timer in the living room. It is an old-fashioned electro-mechanical device with an analog clock face and plastic pegs that one must manually position in order to set the on-and-off times. The table lamp turns on when the clock trips the first peg and off when it reaches the second. The timer seems to use more electricity than the lamp itself, which makes the narrow space between the clock and the wall abnormally warm and dry. The gecko loves it there, curling his body in a semicircle around the plug, totally invisible-unless, of course, one knows that security timers do not have green, pentadactyl feet that stick out around their edges.

When the electricity goes off, which is not infrequent in some parts of Costa Rica, the clock gets behind schedule, and it may be dark when the lamp finally comes on. In these circumstances, I have to reset the timer. When I remove it from the outlet, the gecko acts as if Godzilla had lifted the roof off his home, while I leap back in an involuntary startle

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com


response as a green, prehistoric shape streaks up
the wall a foot in front of my eyes. I wish someone could put a video of this on YouTube.

The gecko seems to have become dependent as any suburbanite on a clock to arouse him from his slumber. The click of the switch is his cue for another evening's hunting under the porch light.

Although he sleeps inside, he prefers to hunt outside, 
slipping between the overly generous space between the pre-fab windows and the local carpentry. Outside, he perches high and out of reach, stuck to the stucco with suction cups a short distance from the ceiling lamp.

When we rent DVDs, our gecko watches them through the living room window from his perch high on the wall. Until now, everything has been tranquilo (as they say here), but when we watched "Wall Street" (1987) starring Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, the reptilian stock market speculator who makes Ivan Boesky look like a Boy Scout, our gecko took offense. Not that he has anything against predators, he emphasized, but he thinks Gordon gives geckos a bad name. Real geckos, he told me, eat vermin, whereas Gordon associates with them.

 Since it is hard to write while hanging upside down from suction cups, our gecko asked me to set the record straight. The vast majority of geckos are honest, upstanding individuals who eat their body weight in bugs a couple of times of week. But what have Wall Street speculators done for you lately?

Peter C. Reynolds
September 2008


Peter, my apologies to your gecko friend.  Obviously, what happens in the world of humans doesn’t stay in the world of humans. 



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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 207


U.N. tourism agency warns a sharp downturn may be ahead
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Global tourism is already feeling the effects of the financial crisis, slowing down over the northern summer this year, the United Nations tourism agency reports, warning that the industry could suffer a sharper downturn in the months ahead.

Consumer demand is falling in both the business and leisure tourism sectors, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, which held a two-day executive council meeting that concluded Wednesday in Madrid.

International tourism grew around 5 per cent between January and April this year, compared to the same period in 2007, but started slowing down when the summer holidays began in the Northern Hemisphere.

The World Tourism Barometer, compiled by a World Tourism Organization panel of experts, “now shows a perceptible loss of confidence regarding the short-term
outlook,” the agency said in a press release following the meeting.

Francesco Frangialli, the organization's secretary general, told the council’s meeting that numerous tourism businesses worldwide were already suffering from the credit crunch and many consumers were cutting back on travel spending.

“Experience teaches us that tourism is resilient, but there is no denying that there is a certain stage of deterioration of the situation beyond which tourism too will begin to suffer,” Frangialli said.

The World Tourism Organization said it expects that tourism could be hit even harder over the remaining months of this year and the first half of 2009 as the slowdown filters through the global economy.

The agency’s executive council agreed to set up a “resilience committee” to support public and private sector members with accurate economic analysis.


Our readers' opinions
Give system a chance to see if speedy process works

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your coverage of Costa Rica's new option for trying criminals caught red-handed immediately may be veering too critical too quickly.

Evidently, the first few thugs who have opted for a speedy trial have gotten off with the equivalent of suspended sentences, and you believe this is too lenient.  Maybe it is, but every criminologist will tell you that immediate punishment is a better deterrent to future criminal acts than harsh punishment.

It appears that, in the initial cases, the captured thugs have spent the first night in the slammer and then left within a day or two with a guilty verdict hanging over their heads.  They, therefore, risk being returned to prison to serve their entire sentences, no questions asked, if they get caught so much as jaywalking during the next three years.

This may actually work better than dragging the process out forever.  In the previous slow system, a suspended sentence would be the most severe likely outcome anyway, although more likely is that the paperwork would be lost and no finding of guilt would ever be recorded.

I say give this new system a chance.  It might work.

Ken Morris 
San Pedro
How far do you dare go
to protect yourself, others?


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am deeply concerned by the strange viewpoint found here in the Costa Rica court system about crime and punishment.  I am a strong believer in reform, “second chances,” and mercy.  However, all in a perspective wherein the purpose of the justice system would be at minimum, to protect the innocent public from further harm.

Criminals have a short memory and scope of time. Otherwise they probably would not do what they do.  They certainly are not worrying about the future.  And when the courts let a criminal go after committing a crime, back into the very area where his victim(s) remain, it exposes the victim and witnesses to retaliation and further harm.  And aside from that, it sends a message to the criminal, whose IQ is often less than most children, that society must actually condone such acts, and so other people become endangered.

On the other hand, the five vigilantes who took justice into their own hands are behind bars for stiffer charges and for a longer prison term than the prosecutor asked, and for longer than any other prison sentence I have seen published here.  Years of their lives will now be wasted away, while a message will circulate amongst criminals not to fear citizen retaliation in self-defense.  I do not condone how far these particular vigilantes went in doing what they did — probably in attempting to teach the criminal a quick, hard “lesson” — and in a country where a call to the police may or may not be responded to and where, even if so, the criminal is usually turned right back out on the streets.  I could agree that these people, too, need to “stop and think about what they did,” but not for what amounts to half of a life sentence!

And unlike the thieves and robbers now walking back out into our streets, I would not feel at all unsafe to have these now incarcerated vigilantes walking amongst me, knowing that what violence is in them is at least directed against a
reasonably deserving target.  Maybe I’d feel a little safer
 knowing that someone near me has zero tolerance for crime in a place where sometimes people can be observed making approving noises and gestures while an innocent person is getting hurt, much less coming to their defense!

You get what you reward.  When you reward crime, you get more of it.  When you penalize defense of property, you get less of it.  This makes the justice system itself appear to be criminal by its very nature.  I’m sorry my Tico friends, but that’s the way it appears.  There is far too much sympathy granted in this culture to those who really deserve significant “time out” over which to review and correct their harmful actions.

(Please understand that I do not favor long jail terms for almost anyone but Charles Manson and that I do not believe much good comes from putting these guys in one place to learn each others’ skills — although there are reform programs, such as “Criminon,” which really do work).

Please also note that I do not presume to assert that my home country has a tremendously better system, wherein “justice” too often goes to the highest bidder.  Where marijuana smokers are doing hard federal time in the primes of their lives in large part because lobbyists and “tough on crime” politicians insured that Corrections Corporation of America can show their stockholders a nice profit.

But with such a “system,” as I find here, I wouldn’t even know where to begin in reforming it.  Perhaps a very basic literacy program for these “justices” with additional very basic training in morality, crime and “ethics.”  (Who has been teaching these people — psychiatrists? — no really
•    only psychiatrists favor this “reward the criminal” approach) In any case, something is fundamentally, fundamentally wrong with this picture.

Call me a Texan, but any criminal act in my vicinity is “my responsibility too” and if that means “taking out” the perpetrator by whatever means necessary to protect those around me, I’m afraid that’s just what it means.
No one has the right to harm persons of good will for selfish or psychotic reasons.

Unlike the criminal, I tend to look to the future and so would probably ask myself, “how far do I need to go in order to insure this criminal does not venture back into our neighborhood?”  And what would be the “loving” answer? 

To merely stand there and hold him “arrested” and hope a) that he doesn’t break free while I wait Lord knows how long, for the police to show;  b) that his friends don’t show up and shoot us all dead; c)  that when the police arrive he gets arrested and that we are not targeted for retribution from his gang when he gets right back out the next day???

But maybe the “intelligent question” (without an intelligent answer!) is “how far DARE I go?” in protecting those around me who may be subjected to criminal assault, or break-and-enter.

Sadly, I feel I am left with the choice of allowing those I love to be continually terrorized or take it to the extreme and “terminally” protect those I care about and then “fall on my sword” in hopes of escaping disastrous jail conditions for the rest of my useful life.

It’s time we worked through some of these issues if we ever hope to have an environment reasonably secure so that the hopes of the vast majority, for a better, safer world, don’t remain pushed so far down under the fear, terror and apathy pervading a society that cannot do better than let its criminals run amok.
Scott Gordon
San José


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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 207




A.M. Costa Rica

users guide


This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages

Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

Searching

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

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Bush renews trade deal
with four Andean nations


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. President George Bush has approved an extension of a trade agreement with four South American nations.

Bush Thursday said the Andean Trade Preference Act shows the U.S. commitment to economic growth in the region. The measure, first enacted in 1991, lifts trade barriers with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

But, the president said he has proposed suspending Bolivia's trade preferences because the country has failed to cooperate with the United States on efforts to fight drug trafficking. Bush also reiterated his call for Congress to approve free trade agreements with Colombia, Panamá and South Korea.

Citing the current financial crisis, Bush said keeping markets open to trade and investment is one of the best ways to restore global economic confidence.

Argentine's Menem faces
trial on weapons smuggling


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem is on trial for his alleged involvement in a weapons smuggling scheme while he was in office. The trial began Thursday, but  Menem missed the first session because of health reasons.

The 78-year-old former president is accused of being involved in the illegal sale of weapons to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. During that time, there was a United Nations arms embargo on Croatia. Also, Ecuador was involved in a war with Perú, and Argentina was banned from selling weapons to either side because it was sponsoring a peace agreement.

Menem, now a senator, faces up to 12 years in prison if he is convicted. He spent five months under house arrest in 2001 on similar charges.

Horse racing group
creates accrediting plan


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said in New York that it has created the "Safety and Integrity Alliance." The association also appointed the former Health and Human Services secretary, Tommy G. Thompson, as its independent monitor.

Alex Waldrop, organization president, said the alliance reforms will include a strict certification process on race tracks and strong advocacy to pass uniform laws for horse racing safety across the United States.

The ethics of horse racing and equine safety became a national issue when 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, and this year's Kentucky Derby runner-up, Eight Belles, both had to be put down after breaking bones in their legs while racing.

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