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Jo Stuart
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These articles first wre published Monday, Oct. 29, 2001
Halloween more sedate here
as Ticos go to cemeteries

by the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Halloween, the scary holiday in North America, will be celebrated here Wednesday mostly with small private parties.

The big day in Costa Rica is Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead, when family members visit cemeteries to make flower offerings to their deceased loved ones.

A few bars and casinos will try to capitalize on Halloween’s popularity in an effort to win tourists and expats to their venues at midweek. Cheetah’s, the casino and club in downtown, is advertising a party for that night.

Sharkey’s, an expat bar across Calle 11 from Cheetah’s, plans a North American style costume party. Expect ghosts, witches, trolls and similar.

But the real holiday belongs to the Mexicans in whose country the Day of the Dead is an important feast day. In San José the Mexican Cultural Center will reflect that importance Friday with a celebration in conjunction with the Mexican Civic and Cultural Association beginning at 6 p.m.

One Mexican tradition will be the erection of an altar for the dead. On the altar will be placed offerings for the dead. There also is a musical group scheduled to perform. More information is available at 220-1404.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated one way or another universally in Latin America. The origins seem to be in Aztec 

and Zapotec cultures which venerated the dichotomy between life and death. With the coming of the Catholic Spanish, the Indian festival was integrated with the Catholic calendar.

Oct. 31 is All Souls day in the Catholic calendar. Nov. 1 is All Saints’ Day, a day Catholics are supposed to go to Mass.

Costa Rica in middle of new corruption index: 

Salvation Army amplifies explanation of shelter situation 
By Major John Mowers
Divisional Commander
The Salvation Army, San José, Costa Rica 

I want to thank you for the article of Oct. 26 about the Salvation Army’s plans to re-open the program for the street children of San José. The article was very accurate. 

In the same edition was also the Jo Stuart column published on the 19th of October in which I was quoted from a Tico Times article as responding to the PANI [Patronado Nacional de la Infancia] complaints about the night shelter that they (implying us, the Salvation Army) "didn’t want to make it so nice that kids don’t care about improving their situation."  Jo calls it a regrettable statement. What is regrettable is that the context of the statement was not made clear. It wasn’t Jo Stuart's fault, but an explanation is in order. 

Those of us involved in programs of social assistance have to always keep in balance two often conflicting goals: first, meeting the immediate need of the client, young or old, for direct material aid, and second, avoiding the creation of dependencies that actually compound the social problem. We don’t want to become facilitators of inappropriate behaviors  and choices. This was the context of my comment. But we did maintain a nice environment in which children were encouraged to make the decision to leave the street.

In the Street Children program here in San José, we offered several stages of program services. The daytime drop-in center  (Centro de Encuentro Inicial) was open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, to meet the needs of the children: meals, laundry  service, clothing, television, organized games and recreation, group and private counseling and advocacy for access to medical care. No jacuzzi, but still pretty nice. 

The goal of our professional staff was to persuade the children to leave the street and enter one of our two transitional shelters where they would receive treatment for their drug addictions, counseling for the trauma of the streets, re-entry into schools, and ultimately, placement in a stable environment — which might be a long-term residential program, or if appropriate, reunion with their family or members of their extended family.

For those children who didn't choose to enter the 

transitional shelter and remained on the street, in 
addition to the daytime drop-in center, we offered a night shelter with beds for 30. This shelter was for sleeping, a clean bed in a safe place —  nothing more, nothing less. 

This is the only component of the program that was criticized. The complaint about the cleanliness of the night shelter was absolutely unjustified. The sad truth is that the odor originated from the children  themselves. There were functioning showers available, but PANI insisted that it would be a violation of their human rights to require the children to shower as a condition for sleeping in the shelter. So really, the odor was inevitable. If you were to visit the shelter during the day, or even in the first hours it was open in the evening, the only smell would be disinfectant.

The facility itself was not ideal for a dormitory, but we had been turned down by the landlords of 20 other buildings before finding this one. There were some repairs and maintenance issues that remained unresolved because we didn’t have the  money to do it. 

This was due to the fact that PANI had not reimbursed the program expenses for five months at the time of the alleged inspection. I have suggested to PANI that their failure to pay for the service for five months might indeed affect the quality of the program, and if there was some program deficiency, they ought to accept some responsibility for it.

One other point of clarification: the closure of the program did not put 200 children on the street. There were about 35  children living in the transitional shelters. The Salvation Army worked with PANI to get every one of them placed in a residential program. So on the night the program closed, there were no more children on the street than before. The increase that Jo and others have noted in the number of homeless children is the result of other social problems.

As A.M. Costa Rica so ably reported this morning, the Salvation Army is trying to reopen the program and we hope to be able to do something when PANI has paid us the money owed for the months of July and August — some 22 million colons.  Contributions will be appreciated from anyone who wishes to join us in this important effort.

Costa Rica's corruption rate right in the middle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica ranked 40th of 91 countries in the perception its public has of corruption among its public officials and employees.

That was the report from Transparency International, which also called the country one of the bright spots in the otherwise murky region of Central America. But the report also said without giving much evidence that corruption may well be on the rise in Costa Rica.

Worse than Costa Rica were such countries as Greece and South Korea (tied for 42nd), Colombia (50th) and Mexico, Panama and the Slovak Republic (tied at 51st).

At the top of the list will less perception of corruption were Finland (1st), Denmark (2nd), New Zealand (3rd), Iceland and Singapore (both 4th), Sweden (6th) and Canada (7th).

The United States tied with Israel for 16th place.

Jordan (37th) and Lithuania and South Africa (both 38th) were ranked higher than Costa Rica.

The corruption perception index is a composite that uses 14 data sources from seven different institutions. Each of these in one way or another seek to capture the public’s sense of the amount of corruption that exists, said the organization.

The most welcome news for the region, according to the report, was the election of Vicente Fox as president of Mexico because he unseated the Institutional Revolutionary Party and because his administration signed a pact in February to fight corruption.

In Costa Rica, Transparency International seemed to equate an action against a newspaper as corruption. It referred to a January case in which the Supreme Court imposed large fines on journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa and the daily La Nación for articles he and the newspaper published about a diplomat’s financial dealings in Europe, based on stories in the German and  Belgian press. 

The report also noted the corrupting influence of illegal  narcotics. It quoted Belisario Solano, a Costa Rican lawmaker, as saying "Central America has become the meat in the sandwich" as a transshipment point, storehouse and money-laundering center. It quoted a Costa Rican report that said between 50 and 70 tons of cocaine travel through Costa Rica to the United States each year.

The globalization of information has showed how local patterns are out of tune with the higher international standards, said the report, adding that greater transparency in all areas of government practice is probably the most effective single instrument against corruption.

The report also said that the Organization of American States has made a positive impact by bringing together officials from many countries for consultations on the problem.

The report listed Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines as countries that still need to bring their banking laws into conformity with international standards. 

The report said that the news media was important in bringing to light corruption, but it criticized the concentration of media ownerships in Latin America and the influences of political parties in the media.

Of Central American in general, the report said:

"Despite the changes, bribery remains widespread across the region. Public administration is bureaucratic and inefficient, stimulating 'back door' tactics. Access to political power continues to ensure access to economic privilege. 

"But anti-corruption offices have sprung forth across the region, and are being pressured by activists to do more to fulfil their mandates, however limited. The progress of the past year is just a beginning."

Transparency International is the same group that publishes a bribery index. It said a new version of that yardstick would be out soon.

Anti-money-laundering measures becomes U.S. law
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON — President George Bush signed into law Friday anti-money laundering legislation that aims to cut off financing channels for terrorist networks.

The legislation was within a broader anti-terrorism bill, and was approved in the House Oct. 24 by a vote of 357-66. The Senate followed suit the next day, with a 98-1 vote.

Money laundering involves moving funds through financial institutions or accounts to disguise their origin or purpose.

The money-laundering provisions of the terrorism bill include new rules barring U.S. banks from most dealings with overseas "shell" banks that have no physical presence anywhere.

They impose new requirements on so-called "correspondent accounts," which allow foreign banks to use U.S. banks' services, thus giving them direct access to the U.S. financial system.

Provisions also require financial institutions that establish or administer correspondent accounts to establish appropriate "due diligence" policies for detecting and reporting instances of money laundering through those accounts.

The law gives the U.S. Treasury new powers to target foreign countries and banks believed to present a money-laundering threat. 

It requires U.S. banks to keep detailed records of dealings with those institutions or jurisdictions.

The bill also makes it illegal to smuggle more than $10,000 in cash in or out of the United States. In the past, those who smuggled money could lose the money and face civil penalties.

In an effort to keep the U.S. securities industry from acting as a conduit for illicit money, the legislation gives the Treasury until the end of the year to issue rules requiring securities brokers to file reports with regulators on large, suspicious currency transactions. U.S. banks already function under such requirements.

The measure also increases the monetary penalties for financial institutions that violate international money-laundering laws. The penalties must be worth at least two times the amount of the transaction, but may not exceed $1,000,000.

Money laundering is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to amount to between 2 and 5 percent of global gross domestic product, which is at least $600,000 million annually.

Rumsfeld denies war
has become quagmire

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says U.S. military action in Afghanistan is going well, stressing it is "not a quagmire."

Noting the U.S. strikes have been going on for just three weeks, Rumsfeld said on U.S. television Sunday that "measurable progress" has been made against suspected terrorist targets and the ruling Taliban. Rumsfeld also said the United States has not ruled out the use of ground troops, but did not say when.

In Afghanistan Sunday, witnesses say U.S. bombs hit a residential area of the capital Kabul, killing at least 10 civilians.

In another development, Taliban authorities say they have buried the body of Afghan opposition commander Abdul Haq. Taliban authorities say he was executed Friday after he was accused of spying for the United States — a charge denied by U.S. officials.

Rumsfeld says Haq did request U.S. assistance before his capture. He said there was a response from the air by an element of the U.S. government, which sources are quoted as saying was a CIA plane, perhaps a drone.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is calling on British people to show their "moral fibre" by holding firm in the fight against terrorism. His comments come amid numerous British media reports commenting on bombing errors in Afghanistan and questions about the progress of the war. The comments are part of a speech Blair is set to deliver today to the Welsh assembly. 

AIDS conference begins
in Port of Spain

An international conference aimed at improving the lives and strengthening support for people living with HIV-AIDS has begun in Trinidad and Tobago. The meeting — the Tenth Annual International Conference for People Living With HIV-AIDS — has attracted more than 500 delegates from around the world to Port of Spain. 

Participants include the head of the U.N. AIDS program, Dr. Peter Piot, health workers, observers and people living with HIV-AIDS. Organizers planned the five-day conference in the Caribbean to highlight the region's high HIV infection rate. Health officials say one in every 50 people in the region has HIV, the highest rate in the world outside Africa. 

The United Nations says 22 million people have died worldwide from AIDS  (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) over the past 20 years. Tens of millions more are infected with AIDS or HIV.

French judge seeking
15 ex-officials in Chile

A French judge has issued international arrest warrants for 15 former Chilean officials. They are wanted in connection with the disappearance of five French citizens during the rule of former dictator Augusto Pinochet. 

Among the suspects named is retired Gen. Manuel Contreras, former head of General Pinochet's feared DINA secret police. 

Judge Roger Le Loire, who issued the arrest warrants, is looking into allegations that the five French citizens who disappeared were imprisoned and tortured during Gen. Pinochet's rule. 

Judge Le Loire issued two international arrest warrants for Pinochet in 1998, when the ex-general was arrested in London on an extradition order from Spain to face human rights charges. 

In July this year, Chile's Appeals Court ruled that the 85 year old former dictator was mentally unfit and too ill to face trial in connection with covering up 75 murders and abductions by an army death squad in 1973.

More action sought
to save environment

Latin American and Caribbean officials are calling for urgent action to halt environmental destruction and achieve sustainable development. 

During a U.N.-sponsored conference this week in Rio de Janeiro delegates agreed on principles and recommendations to be presented next year at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg. The recommendations include urgent action to reverse deforestation and land degradation, and ratification of the Kyoto protocol on global warming, an accord the United States withdrew from earlier this year. 

The delegates also are urging industrialized nations to increase their assistance on environmental issues in developing nations as promised at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. 

Argentine readies plan
to bolster economy

Argentine officials say President Fernando de la Rua is preparing to announce new economic measures aimed at easing the country's three-year-old financial crisis.

The package is the latest effort to lift the country out of its financial crisis, as more than one-third of Argentines live in poverty and unemployment rates soar above 16 percent. The crisis has investors fearful the country could default on its $130 billion foreign debt payments.

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