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(506) 2223-1327               Published Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 208         E-mail us
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Archaic press hurts freedom here, world report says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica fell from 22nd to 30 in international press freedom rankings in an index released by Reporters without Borders Tuesday.

The Paris-based organization said that no attack on a
news media or journalist has been reported in Costa Rica since the start of 2008, calling this a remarkable exception in Central America, a region known for violent crime.

Costa Rica continues to have an archaic press and free expression law dating back to 1902 that was only slightly improved by the subsequent suppression of the crime of
PRess association symbol
Inter-American Press Association campaign
dishonor, the organization said in explaining its index, adding:

The debate about the law’s modernization continues to drag on. Its controversial law makes defamation and insult punishable by imprisonment — for up to 120 days in the case of defamation. The most recent convictions on these charges were in 2004 and they were condemned by the San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights. There have been no convictions in press cases since then.

In many countries defamation is a civil matter. Proposed changes in the law would make that the case in Costa Rica, too.

Costa Rica shares 30th place with Portugal and Mali. Last year the country was ranked 22.

Elsewhere in Central America Reporters without Borders cited developments in Honduras that caused the nation to fall to 128th place. Honduras already had a poor ranking even before the June 28 coup d’état took a heavy toll on press freedom. The new de facto government preys on media that do not support it and has managed to impose a news blackout at the international media’s expense, the organization said. The interim government there has relaxed its curfew and some of its curbs on opposing media in the last few days..

The organization said that the problem of violent crime is undermining countries such as El Salvador, where gangs known as maras were already targeting the press before they murdered documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda. The problem has also taken a disturbing turn for the worse in Guatemala, ranked 106th. Tension between the press and President Daniel Ortega’s administration explain Nicaragua’s fall to 76th position, the organization said.

The other major decline has been in Venezuela (124th), where a journalist was murdered against a backdrop of rampant criminal violence and the Hugo Chávez administration kept changing the rules that govern broadcasting with the aim of steadily silencing its critics, said Reporters without Borders. The sudden withdrawal of the licenses of 34 regional radio and TV stations in August was part of the strategy, the report said.

Already badly placed in the 2008 index, Venezuela is now among the region’s worst press freedom offenders, close to Colombia (126th) and Mexico (tied 137th). In both these countries, the security forces are partly, and in no small measure, to blame for the prevailing violence that leads to self-censorship and subjects being placed off-limits,
the report said. In a state of virtual civil war since the launch of a major federal offensive against drug trafficking in 2006, Mexico has maintained its tragic status as the hemisphere’s most dangerous country for journalists, with 55 killed since 2000 and nine since January of this year.

Only Cuba (170th), the region’s unchanging dictatorship, where press freedom is non-existent, is ranked lower in the index. The meager hopes raised by Raúl Castro’s accession to the presidency in February 2008 quickly evaporated. Two more imprisonments, bringing the number of detained journalists to 25, the frequent blocking of Web sites and arrests of bloggers are all evidence of the lack of any evolution in the situation of human rights and freedoms.

One of Cuba’s Caribbean neighbors, the Dominican Republic (98th), slipped a few more places because of a high level of violence and an increase in abusive lawsuits against news media.

An increase in physical attacks on journalists, combined with lawsuits, administrative censorship and a journalist’s imprisonment, were the reasons for Ecuador’s fall to 84th position.

Bolivia (95th) moved in the opposition direction after plummeting last year. The media war is not yet completely over but the government gradually resumed a dialogue with a sector of the press that was partly to blame for the previous year’s political crisis, especially in provinces controlled by opposition parties that want autonomy, Reporters without Borders said.

Long the holder of the record for physical attacks on journalists, Peru (85th) rose in the index despite the government’s recent closure of a radio station, it added.

A tradition of media diversity, an increase in media democracy and in some cases a decrease in abuse of authority and other censorship attempts are the reasons for the very good rankings obtained by Argentina (47th) and Uruguay (29th), which are on a par with many European countries, the report said. Uruguay has even overtaken Costa Rica (30th) as the Latin American country with the highest ranking, staying ahead of Chile (tied 39th) and now close behind Jamaica (23rd) and Trinidad and Tobago (28th), where the press continues to be a respected institution, the report said.

Brazil (71st), the regional power, finally rid itself in May of a press law it inherited from the military dictatorship and has benefitted from the government’s efforts to improve access to information. Despite these positive changes, the government has yet to put an end to the persistent violence against the media in the big cities and in the north and northeast. Preventive censorship continues in certain states where the authorities monopolize the local media.

One of the countries where prosecutions led to exorbitant damages awards, Canada (19th) fell a few places but still holds the hemisphere’s highest position.

The process of adopting a shield law protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level is far from over in the United States (20th) but the judicial authorities are no longer jailing journalists and violating civil liberties in the name of national security as they were in the George Bush era, according to the press freedom organization.

So the United States is back in the press freedom top 20, as is appropriate for a country where the press has traditionally played its role as independent watchdog well, the organization said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 208

Costa Rica Expertise
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Crooks kill judicial agent
in Sabana Sur shootout

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judicial agent died Tuesday night as he and fellow officers tried to detain four house burglars in Sabana Sur. Two suspects fled but two were held after the agent suffered a bullet wound to the chest.

The suspects may also be wanted in the sacking of a Guachipelín condo complex last week. The arrest was made by the Judicial Investigating Organization's anti-robbery unit. It was unclear if anyone was home at the dwelling where the shootout took place.

Agents had been following the suspects in the Guachipelín case after they managed to identify some of them two days after the crime. They were planning to catch the men in the act of committing a crime.


Animal welfare auction Nov. 8

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pro-animal organization SASY, which stands for Stop Animal Suffering  — Yes!, will hold its annual charity auction Nov. 8 from 2 to 6 p.m. The event is designed to raise money for animal welfare programs throughout Costa Rica.

The non-profit organization said it raised more than $40,000 in 2008 and channeled the money to many spay and neutering animal clinics. Tickets are 15,000 colons a person or 25,000 a couple for the auction that will feature 200 high-end luxury items, the organization said. The venue is the InterContinental Hotel in Escazú.

Those interested in attending can call 2249-3722 or e-mail sasyauction09@gmail.com. 


Free museum concert Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Banda National de San José performs at 11 a.m. Sunday in the interior plaza of the Museo Nacional. The first half of the program will feature works by German composers in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. The program is sponsored in part by the Embassy of Germany.

Juan Bautista Loaiza, band director, said the second half of the program will have Latin American themes. The event is part of the Música en el Museo program. The event is free.


Our readers' opinions
Higher taxes are paving
nation's road to serfdom


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

If one looks objectively at the financial straights Costa Rica apparently is in, you can only deduce that what has been lost (tax income to the state), which must be due to a lack of tourism, is now decidedly to be made up on the backs of those who live in Costa Rica. To wit: the pending new traffic laws and fees which now intend to levy brutal First World penalties on Third World drivers..

Now it’s the same with real property. Fresh taxation. Maybe not to the level some modern societies are used to. But give it time. The octopus has many arms and the road to serfdom is paved with high taxation. What if not one single person paid a single colon, no one registered a single property?? Is solidarity now a dirty word?

Surely, the politicos would then cry from the hilltops that the roads and the children(!) will suffer without freshly stuffed coffers while the average citizen toils ever harder for the same or less. You have been warned.
Dennie Sartuga,
Limon

Weakening U.S. dollar
due to Obama policies

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A lot of people in the United States feel that the weakening dollar is a direct result of President Obama's nine-month tenure in office with his stimulus package; printing dollars to flood the Treasury, helping pay for his healthcare, cap & trade and welfare programs, redistributing wealth in America.

That's change you can believe in.

Ironically, alot of expats in Costa Rica who voted for Obama, will wind up paying more for almost everything to live the good life.

On top of that, for the first time since 1975, there will be no increase in Social Security this coming year! I can only hope the pain and discomfort felt by these liberals is long and hard.

As for conservatives, 2010 midterm elections will mark a watershed year. It's time to clean out the Senate and House of Democrats for good.
 
P.S. We "may" get a whopping $250 check to help retirees for the entire 2010 year. Obama gets $1.3 million and a Nobel prize for doing nothing! That's fair?
 
Donald Thom
Richardson, Texas

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 208

Nation faces a flurry of labor actions including at the docks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica was faced with three labor actions Tuesday, but by far the most significant to the economy was the one at the docks in the Caribbean ports.

Members of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Japdeva stopped work on both the Limón and nearby Moín docks that handle the majority of the nation's exports.

In San José, secondary school teachers were marching for more consistent pay raises, and taxi drivers had their cars in more rolling blockades protesting police leniency with so-called informal taxi drivers who do not have legal permits.

The central government was quick to condemn the dock strike. "It is sad, deplorable and shameful that the same people who opposed the modernization of the ports, the development of Limón and the delivery to the province more jobs and security for the citizens insist in blockades and the totally unjustified paralyzation," said Rodrigo Arias of the strikers. He is minister of the Presidencia and the president's brother.

Business sources said that the work stoppages would cost producers millions in ruined bananas, melons and pineapples.

The teachers who marched Tuesday were members of the Asociación de Profesores de Segunda Enseñanza. They walked up Avenida 6 and later went to the Ministerio de Educación Pública. Their complaint is that the central government has not lived up to promises made in providing certain pay raises.
At one point marching teachers blocked a line of slow-moving taxis driven by protesters carrying their own message to the government.

Dock workers were off Oct. 12 for the Día de la Cultura holiday and again Friday and again Saturday for the carnival parade in Limón, said government sources. The strike Tuesday began at 11 a.m.

Marco Vargas Díaz, minister of Coordinación Interinstitucional, said that the union actions are one reason the Limón docks are considered some of the most inefficient in the world.

There were two boats in the Limón dock loading bananas and two container vessels at the Moín dock when the walkout happened.

The union leadership opposes a plan by the central government to put the docks up for a concession bid from a private company that can make major investments to improve the efficiency. Workers would get a health payoff and perhaps be rehired by the private company. This is the same system that was used to privatize the docks at the Pacific port of Caldera.

Some union members are anxious for the payoffs, which could be as much as $100,000 per person based on seniority and some other factors. But the union leadership has refused to hold an internal vote on the matter.

The government called on union workers who support the payoff to return to work despite the union leadership. The docks usually function 24 hours a day. But they still were reported to be on strike early today.


U.S. paper company joins Friends of Osa for reforestation
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Neenah Paper said Tuesday that it will help Friends of the Osa and the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin to reforest a conservation property in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world.

With Neenah's support and contributions, the reforestation project will remove carbon from the atmosphere, protect and restore viable plant and animal habitats, create a new habitat for endangered wildlife and restore land degraded by deforestation, the paper company said.

"Partnering with Friends of the Osa and the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is exciting because together we will have a direct impact not only on the Costa Rican rainforest, but on some of the world's threatened and endangered species," said Rodger Ferguson, director of environmental services at Neenah Paper.

"The Osa Project is another example of how government, foundations and private industry can work together to be good stewards of the land, water and wildlife that is quickly vanishing," said David Clutter. He is director of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin Wisconservation Corps and Lands Programs.
The conservation property, an extensive 1,500 acres in the southeastern portion of the Golfo Dulce forest reserve, is located in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. It harbors the last remaining old growth rainforest on the western flank of Central America and is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, the company said. Sandwiched between encroaching development and deforested land, the Osa Peninsula is widely acknowledged as a global conservation priority by conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International.

"Neenah Paper has a long history of contributing to conservation projects," explained Ferguson. "The Osa Project was particularly appealing because it is the migratory home of 54 native Wisconsin species of birds, 18 of which are state conservation priorities and three of which are listed as threatened. Wisconsin is home to our fine papers mills and is a large part of Neenah Paper's heritage. It just makes sense to be one of the founding partners in this project."

Friends of the Osa is a nonprofit organization committed to protecting the Osa Peninsula's rich biodiversity through land stewardship, capacity building, education and outreach and applied science. Friends of the Osa works to ensure the maintenance, restoration and long-term viability of the ecosystems found on the Osa.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 208


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Court magistrates and lawmakers at odds over budget cut

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial leaders are miffed that the legislature plans to cut their annual budget by some $1.2 million, and lawmakers are unhappy that the court magistrates sent them a written protest.

The Poder Judicial called a press conference for Tuesday and then quickly canceled it. The topic was going to be the complaints by Corte Suprema magistrates that justice would suffer if the 2010 budget were cut.

This perplexed some lawmakers. Luis Antonio Barrantes, a Movimiento Libertario lawmaker on the budget-setting
Comisión de Hacendarios, said that the magistrates were premature because no action has been taken yet.  He also said the amount in question would only be a quarter of a percent of the whole budget and probably would be refunded to the Poder Judicial in other ways.

He also said that the court budget has increased 134 percent in four years while the administration of justice has increased from 2 to 11 percent.

"The system today is, sadly, in favor of criminals and there are many cases that serve as an example for which the Poder Judicial should give an explanation to the citizenry," the lawmaker said.



Contest this year will be essays on living without an army

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This year an annual contest commemorating the abolition of the Costa Rica army will be literary in tone. Contestants are being asked to produce 10 short essays on how living in a country without an army has affected their lives and their experiences.

The contest is being run by the Centro Cultural e Histórico José Figueres Ferrer in Alajuela, an agency of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

Those who enter must be at least 12 years old. There are categories for juveniles, professionals and amateurs. First prize in each group is 150,000 colons or about $260. 

Each short essay should be no longer than 200 words, including title, said the center. The 10 short essays will be handed in under a pseudonym so that judges do not know the author, said the center.
The center runs a contest every year, but the type varies.

There have been painting, poetry and even graphic arts contests.

More information is available on the center Web site. The winners will be announced Dec. 5, the 61st anniversary of the announcement by then-president José Figueres Ferrer that the army would be abolished.

Costa Rica is well known in the world as the country without an army. A standing army is prohibited by the Costa Rican Constitution although the same document gives the central government the power to form an army in times of national emergency.

Figueres had just beaten the country's army with his own army of rebels when he abolished the military. Some historians said he did so because he feared a coup by the then-defense minister.


   
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 208

Casa Alfi Hotel

Housing data puts cold water
on stock market earnings

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Weak U.S. housing data is tempering enthusiasm stoked by upbeat earnings reports from some of America's best-known corporations.

From technology giant Apple to construction-equipment maker Caterpillar, a flurry of corporate heavyweights have topped earnings and profit expectations for the third quarter of the year, turning in strong performances in one of the toughest global economic climates in decades.

The earnings reports would seem to validate an upward march by stock markets in the United States, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average recently topped 10,000 for the first time in a year.

But economic soft spots remain, including America's beleaguered housing sector. It was a rash of mortgage defaults that helped precipitate last year's financial meltdown and sent an already-weakened U.S. economy deeper into recession. In addition to continued high home foreclosure rates, applications for home-building permits fell in September by the largest amount in five months.

Drops in permit applications usually forecast a slowdown in home construction. 

Channel Capital Research Institute Chief Investment Strategist Douglas Roberts says America's housing sector will likely remain weak well into next year.

"I do not think it is going to be an engine of growth like it was before," he said. "I think right now it is like we are scraping along the bottom, and I think you could have weak numbers in this area for a while."

The U.S. Commerce Department says new home construction edged up a half a percent in September, less than many economists had anticipated.

And what of a U.S. stock market that has seen the Dow rise by 50 percent since March?

New York-based equity strategist Peter Boockvar says sustaining the rally will become more challenging, even if corporate earnings continue to beat estimates.

"Going into the second quarter, expectations were very low," he said. "We beat those. Now we have greater expectations. We are getting those fulfilled, but the market is only up 2 to 3 percent. I think we have priced in a lot of these good numbers and that is why the market is showing signs of getting tired here."

The Labor Department reports that U.S. wholesale prices fell six-tenths of a percent last month due primarily to falling energy prices. During the past year, core wholesale prices have risen a modest 1.8 percent, a sign that U.S. inflation remains in check.

Latest offer to ousted Zelaya
is called insulting by aide


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Talks to end a nearly four-month-old political crisis in Honduras have again stalled, with a representative for deposed President José Manuel Zelaya calling the interim government's latest offer insulting.

Representative Victor Meza accused government negotiators of delay tactics after they proposed Monday that the country's supreme court and congress submit opinions on whether Zelaya should be reinstated. The supreme court and most members of congress backed Zelaya's June 28 ouster.

Meza has called for the Organization of American States to considering ruling on the situation. The group's Permanent Council meets today in Washington.

Zelaya was deposed and sent into exile after opponents accused him of trying to illegally change the constitution to extend his term in office. Since then, interim President Roberto Micheletti has faced intense international pressure to restore Zelaya, who sneaked back into Honduras in September and has taken refuge at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Monday, the interim government relaxed a ban on demonstrations, ahead of Nov. 29 elections.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 208


Latin American news
Two men die and two hurt
in Monday evening crimes


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two apparent murders and two non-fatal shootings kept investigators busy Monday afternoon and evening.

A 36-year-old man with the last name of Rojas died near the Mercado Central in San José about 4:30 p.m. Monday. The Hatillo resident was a street vendor, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. An unknown person simply walked by and stabbed him, agents said.

A 51-year-old businessman was found dead also Monday afternoon. A family member found the man in his own apartment in Barrio Lujan, which is not far south from the central court complex in San José. He suffered a stab wound in the neck, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. A wallet and cell telephone were missing.

In Limón agents were trying to find out why an 8-year-old boy with the last name of Martínez was shot in the head about 6 p.m. Monday. The shooting took place in an area known as Limón 2000. Agents said they believe the boy's father was having a discussion with someone else and fired the bullet that hit the child in the head. He was being hospitalized.

A 28-year-old man suffered gunshot wounds also Monday night in Concepción de Alajuelita. Agents said witnesses reported the man was involved in a discussion with a group of other men when someone pulled a gun and started shooting. The man, identified by the last name of Jiménez, suffered wounds in the neck and knee. The man with the gun fled, agents said.


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