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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 208
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Costa Rica beats out U.S. in free press index
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica took another dip in an annual press freedom index, but the country finished ahead of the United States, which took a plunge.

Costa Rica was rated 41st with a score of 8.5.  In 2002, when the first index was released, Costa Rica ranked 15th in the world with a score of 4.25. In 2003 the country moved several places down to 24th, but the score actually improved to 3.8. The lower the score the better.

In 2004 Costa Rica took another drop in the rankings to 35th  and the score rose to 7.63.

Some Western democracies slipped down the index, which was complied by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources, said the press freedom group.

Canada (21st) also dropped several places due to decisions that weakened the privacy of sources and sometimes turned journalists into “court auxiliaries,” the report said. France (30th) also slipped, largely because of searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and introduction of new press offenses, it said.
The index is compiled using questionnaires filled out by journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activist. Some 167 countries were included in this years index. North Korea rated 167th with a score of 109. Cuba is 161.  North Korea is closely followed in the 167-country list by Eritrea (166th) and Turkmenistan (165th), which are other “black holes” for news where the privately-owned media is not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist, said Reporters without Borders.

At the top of the Index, released today, once again are northern European countries Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands, where robust press freedom is firmly established. The top 10 countries are all European. New Zealand (12th), Trinidad and Tobago (12th), Benin (25th) and South Korea (34th) are the highest-ranked countries in other continents.

There was no explanation as to the factors involved in setting the score for Costa Rica, but the Asamblea Legislativa has failed to pass a new press law or to eliminate the criminal penalties for desacato or insulting an official. The country was ordered to make the adjustment in the criminal code by the Inter-American Court of Human rights, which entered a decision in favor of a La Nación reporter convicted of insulting a diplomat.


Security for tourists here is the topic of seminar today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The high tourist season is quickly approaching. Several companies who cater to these travelers will meet with Fuerza Pública officers and private security firms in a seminar planned for today to discuss security.

The seminar, “La Seguridad y su Impacto en el Desarrollo de la Actividad Turistica,” starts at 4:30 p.m. at the Hotel Radisson Europa in north San José.
Several officials with an interest in foreign visitors will be present including María Fullmen Salazar Elizondo, vice minister of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública; Marcos Crespo Campos, president of the Asociación Costarricense de Operadores de Turismo; Guillermo Alvarado, general manager of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo; William Rodríguez, president of the Cámara Nacional de Turismo, and Swamy Flores, director of the Seguridad Comunitaria y Comercial of the security ministry.



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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 208


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Fatal Pacific accident
ends sailing adventure


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A family's dream to sail around the globe together ended tragically when Steven Eric Swenson, 38, drowned while diving off the coast of Playa Panama near Playas del Coco Sept. 11. 

Swenson and his family had been planning the trip since 1993 but as life and jobs and the births of two sons postponed the journey, the family didn't leave until March of last year, said a Web site they maintained during the voyage.

The family left Seattle, Wash., sailed around Vancouver Island, then headed south down the Pacific coast planning to winter in Ecuador. 

Swenson's father initially contacted a reporter after his attempts to find information about his son's death came up fruitless. 

“I have made many attempts to get information from the U.S. Embassy in San José.  Mostly I leave messages on unanswered phones which are NEVER returned.  I finally got a live U.S. Marine on the emergency number.  I have been promised that some hard copy details are being sent to me,” he wrote in an e-mail. 

A.M. Costa Rica provided him with some details.

The family is planning a memorial service next month.

Another  pejibaye festival
is planned for Copal


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Copal near Tucurrique, is the latest in a line of rural communities to hold a pejibaye fair.  However, most only last a weekend.  The fair in Copal will start Friday and continue through Oct. 30, organizers said. 

Many events are planned for the festival including dances, and the usual plethora of food and artisan work.  However, a couple of live concerts are planned.  Tico singer Erick León will perform Friday as will national group Caña Blanca in the Súper Toldo, organizers said.  Another highlight includes a running of the bulls the following weekend.   

Pejibayes are a popular Costa Rican snack.

For more information about the fair, call 535-0038 or 535-0094   

Delta Air Lines plans
new transatlantic routes


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delta Airlines has announced that it will start several new transatlantic routes between the United States and Europe.  When completed, Delta will become the largest airline crossing the Atlantic, it said. 

The routes will originate at either Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta or JFK in New York.  The flights from Atlanta will go to: Tel Aviv, Israel; Düsseldorf, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; Edinburg, Scotland; Nice, France; Athens, Greece and Venice, Italy, the company said.   

The routes from New York will go to: Budapest, Hungary; Dublin/Shannon, Ireland; Manchester, England and Kiev, Ukraine, the company said. 

Delta also has several routes between the United States and Costa Rica. 

Presidential re-election
considered in legislature


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators tackled the issue of reforming the Constitution to permit the re-election of presidents. The discussion Wednesday did not result in a vote.

But in Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, the current president, seems to have the opportunity for a second shot at the office. The Corte Constitucional there voted 8-1 on complex legal appeals against constitutional reform that gives Uribe the opportunity to be the first president since Simón Bolívar to serve two consecutive terms. Elections are in May.

In Costa Rica, the Sala IV constitutional court has ruled that international treaties trump the Constitution on the issue of presidential re-election. The decision was viewed widely as a way for Óscar Arias Sánchez, who served from 1986 to 1990, to run again.

The discussion in the Asamblea Legislativa Wednesday  was whether the Constitution's Article 132 should be changed to reflect the conditions imposed by the court.

A proposal presented by a dozen deputies, including Carlos Avendaño of Restauración Nacional and Sigifredo Aiza and Luis Ramírez of Arias' party, the Partido Liberación Nacional, backed the measure. But disagreement developed over whether the re-election could be for consecutive terms or if a waiting period should be required between terms.

Federico Malavassi of Movimiento Libertario said that a second term would allow a president to complete the projects he started while in office. But José Miguel Corrales said that a president would be subject to excessive pressure to please the people and not make hard decisions in his or her first term if a second term was possible.
 
Tourism office is moved

The  Instituto Costarricense de Turismo has moved its tourist information office from the first floor of the main Correos de Costa Rica post office downtown to the institutes's general offices in La Uruca. The institute building is north of the Autopista General Cañas at the Juan Pablo II bridge.

A tourist information office continues to function in the Museos del Banco Central under Plaza de la Cultura in the center of the downtown.
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Country seems in the clear from one of worst hurricanes ever recorded
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Though reports vary, Costa Rica seems to be out of the way of Wilma.  Forecasters predicted Monday that the storm would dump rain on the country until Wednesday night.  However, by Tuesday they were extending those predictions to this morning.

In the meantime, Wilma has gorged herself on the warm Caribbean waters and has strengthened faster than any other hurricane in history.  For a short time Wednesday, it became the most powerful hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic.  Persons throughout the region have evacuated, and Florida is bracing for the impact which should happen sometime this Saturday.  Forecasters predict that the storm will lose strength by the time it makes landfall. 

Wednesday night, the Category 5 storm was centered southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and churning west northwest at 8 mph.  By 8 p.m. Friday, the storm should be grazing the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and shifting towards Florida, according to the United States National Hurricane Center. 

Tuesday night, it was raining lightly on the Pacific slope and the Central Valley.  The most dense rains were falling in Nicoya and south of Quepos, said the Instituto Meteorólogo Nacional.  Forecasters predicted that 1 to 2 inches of rain would fall in the Central Valley Wednesday night and 1 to 4 inches 

U.S. Weather Service photo   
Wilma is perched to the north and east

would fall on the Pacific Coast and Guanacaste.
Computer prediction models agree that Wilma will brush the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before turning towards the northeast.

But they disagree over whether Wilma will then linger over western Cuba or head towards south Florida and the Florida Keys, said the A.M. Costa Rica wire services.

Forecasters say Hurricane Wilma could dump as much as 25 inches of rain over Cuba, and half that much in the Cayman Islands, Swan Island, Jamaica, Honduras and the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, the wires said.


Country's exports showing a 10 percent increase
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican exports are up 10 percent over the same period last year.

Total Costa Rican exports reached $5.2 billion as of the end of September, said Doris Osterlof, vice minister de Comercio Exterior.  She said this is a 10 percent increase.

Vice Mininser Osterlof attributes this success to the work of thousands of persons in both the private and public sectors, as well as to the establishment of an exportation goal at the beginning of the year.  She said she thinks that the goal helped increase national participation in the production and manufacturing of the goods and services that went abroad. 

Goods going to the Asian market grew at a rate of 65 percent making it the fast growing destination of Costa Rican exports, the vice minister said.  During the period between January and September, $745 million in goods went to that market.  Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Japan and Taiwan were the primary destinations.   
Exportations to Costa Rica's neighbors grew at a rate of 11 percent, the ministry said.  The country's biggest customers inside Central America were Nicaragua and Honduras.  In the Caribbean, the countries that bought the most of Costa Rica's products were the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the ministry said.   

Russia, the European Union, Holland and Belgium can also be distinguished for the rapid growth, the ministry said. 

Costa Rica exported $61 million more agricultural products even though banana sales dropped $60 million, the ministry said.  Pineapple, coffee, foliage and melons made up the difference, said the ministry. 

Though sugar and palm oil exports did not increase compared to last year.  Those products along with fruits, flour and salsas among others made up $472 million of Costa Rica's foreign sales. 

The manufacturing sector grew at a 13 percent rate mostly from the sale of integrated circuits and micro electronics exported mainly to Asia, the ministry said.


Calderón freed from house arrest after nearly a year of detention
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The last former president to be under house arrest is being freed.

A judge decided Wednesday that Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier could leave his home in Curridabat as long as he signed in with prosecutors every 15 days.

The decision was made in the Juzgado Penal of the II Circuito Judicial de San José.

Calderón has been under some form of detention since Oct. 22, 2004. He was in the La Reforma prison in Alajuela from then until March 22 when he was
 allowed to go home under house arrest.

Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría was released from house arrest last week. Rodríguez, who served from 1998 to 2002, faces allegations of corruption stemming from the award of a contract to the French Alcatel communications firm.

Calderón is being investigated for his possible involvement in a $520,000 payoff linked to a contract between the Caja Costarricence de Seguro Social and the medical supply firm Fischel.

In the case of both ex-presidents they are forbidden to speak with anyone involved in the case. Calderón specifically is forbidden to approach airfields.






Workers overseas send $50 billion a year back home
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Latin American and Caribbean immigrants working in the United States and elsewhere abroad will send an estimated $50 billion to their home countries in 2005, reports the Inter-American Development Bank.

However, these money transfers (known as remittances) sent by immigrants largely bypass the financial systems of their home countries, limiting their development impact, the bank said.

Because of this, the bank said it will support the leveraging of remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean to generate concrete progress for the region and its inhabitants.  Leveraging refers to using a small amount of funds to attract other funds, including loans, grants and equity investments.

The bank's new president, Luis Alberto Moreno, said during a summit of Ibero-American heads of state and government in Salamanca, Spain, last week that his institution will support a variety of programs to create "more and better possibilities for millions of families across the region who receive remittances to get more out of their resources."  The programs will give
"future generations of workers better opportunities in their own countries," he said.
By improving the region's banking and credit systems, Moreno said, the remittances can be leveraged for more efficient use and to "obtain a multiplier effect on development."

The challenge, said Moreno, is to link remittances with the banking systems in Latin America and the Caribbean to provide a better life for immigrants working abroad and their families back home. 

The need to make better use of remittances was reiterated by U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow in March 25 U.S. congressional testimony. 

Snow said a major problem faced by immigrants in sending remittances home is that often they pay high fees to transfer the funds.

Once the funds arrive at their destinations, said Snow, the limited access of recipients to financial services — or their lack of knowledge about such services — often restricts their options for saving or investing the funds in such areas as education expenses or small business enterprises.

"Thus, tremendous potential for remittance flows to contribute to economic growth and development is lost." Snow said. 


Farm subsidies negotiations hit a stumbling block
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The complex negotiations between the European Union and several key trading nations over farm subsidies and tariffs got more difficult Wednesday.

French officials said chief EU trade negotiator Peter Mandelson should not make any concessions on agricultural issues at talks with the United States, Brazil, India, and Australia.

Earlier, Mandelson said the EU's trading partners must make concessions on trade in services and industries if
Europe is to make politically unpopular cuts to farm subsidies and tariffs.

Many of Europe's trading partners are pressing for cuts in subsidies that developing nations say have unfairly undercut their agriculture.

Agreement is needed before December, when WTO members meet to approve a global trade deal.

Meanwhile, a news report says some African nations warn that WTO talks will ultimately fail unless there is action to cut cotton subsidies.


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