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(506) 223-1327          Published Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 222        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Sorta like
a circus

There is a new display of architectural projects in a once-empty but facinating structure in San José.

To celebrate the opening Tuesday, fire jugglers and other performers took to the stage, and traffic was blocked.

For more photos and a story, see

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking

Lawmakers act to remove major objection to U.S. free trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Lawmakers studying the free trade treaty have taken a major step to eliminate one criticism of the proposed agreement with the United States.

Opponents have argued that the Costa Rican Constitution is inferior in law to international treaties.  This means, opponents have said, that the free trade treaty has the power to void important Costa Rican laws and rights that have created the existing social state.

Eight deputies in the Comisión de Relaciones Internacionales have approved an interpretive clause that will be part of the legislation adopting the free trade treaty. The clause was proposed by the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The clause says that the Constitution is above the free trade treaty as a ruling legal document.

This is the case in the United States where the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

This has been a sticking point for persons sincerely
concerned about the treaty and ammunition for those opposed to the agreement.

The free trade treaty is a take-it-or-leave-it document. Lawmakers may not change it. But the interpretive clause in the legislation adopting the measure shows the intent of the legislature.

The resolution also says that all parties to the treaty have the same obligations. That was directed to the United States.

The committee still has not reported out the trade treaty to the full assembly. It has a Dec. 12 deadline to do that.

The lawmakers also specify another law and a 2005 Sala IV constitutional court decision involving a treaty with the Caribbean countries that seems to support their point of view.

The Ley General de la Administración Pública says that the Constitution is the highest law, followed by treaties and then general laws. Next are decrees issued by the appropriate branch and then rules issued by the executive branch.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 222

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How the candidates fared
José Rizo Castellón
Partido Liberal Constitucionalista
Eduardo Montealegre Rivas
Alianza Liberal Nicaragüense
Daniel Ortega Saavedre
Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional
Edmundo Jarquín
Movimiento Renovación Sandinista
Totals reflect 91.6 percent of total polling places

U.S. says it wants continued
good relations with Nicaragua

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff and wire services

The United States said Tuesday it wants to have continued good relations with Nicaragua, where leftist former President Daniel Ortega appears headed for victory after Sunday's election. The State Department says the state of relations will depend on the platform of the new Managua government.

Though some members of the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress had expressed concern about the prospect of a return to power for Ortega, the State Department is voicing hope for a continuation of good relations with Managua after the apparent victory by the leftist politician. The counting is not yet complete.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said he was withholding a final judgment until certified election results are in and until U.S. officials have heard the report of international observers on the conduct of Sunday's vote.

However, McCormack said the United States has made a commitment to Nicaragua through the U.S.-Central American free trade agreement and a U.S. Millennium Challenge aid project active in parts of Nicaragua under the political control of Ortega's Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. McCormack expressed hope the relationship can go forward:

"They have an interest in continuing that relationship. We've also worked on debt relief for them," he noted. "So we, the United States, have made clear that we want to have a good relationship with the Nicaraguan people and we've acted on that, we've shown that."

McCormack said ultimately the platform of the incoming Nicaraguan government will determine the relationship.

The United States had an antagonistic relationship with Ortega's Marxist government in the 1980s and backed Contra rebels in a proxy war against his Soviet-backed administration.

Though Ortega says he has moderated his political views since then, some U.S. officials, including Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, have warned that a Sandinista return would scare off foreign investors and jeopardize Nicaragua's participation in the free trade agreement.

Some congressional Republicans have urged economic action against Managua in the event of an Ortega win. The situation was made worse because Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, no friend of Washington, strongly backed Ortega.

Spokesman McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a telephone conversation Tuesday with former President Jimmy Carter, who is in Nicaragua to monitor the election and has said the relatively-minor problems noted were not severe enough to affect the outcome.

Carter has met with Daniel Ortega and urged reconciliation between him and Washington.

The U.S. State Department has been criticized for its strategy leading up to the vote Sunday.

U.S. officials clearly support Eduardo Montealegre Rivas of the Alianza Liberal Nicaragüense at the expense of José Rizo Castellón of the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista. U.S. officials felt that Rizo was too closely tied to disgraced former president Arnoldo Alemán, who has been convicted of corruption. Rizo was vice president under Alemán.

By backing Montealegre, the U.S. officials split the anti-Ortega vote, critics said. In fact, Rizo and Montealegre together appear to have captured more than 53 percent of the popular vote.

Montealegre, himself, was foreign minister under Alemán and involved in a major scandal. He was a former member of the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista.

World tourism on track
despite war, U.N. reports

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

World tourism continues to exceed expectations, showing resilience against factors such as this summer’s Israeli- Hizbollah war in Lebanon and terrorist threats to air travel, with international arrivals for the first eight months up 4.5 per cent and poised to set another all-time high, according to latest United Nations figures

“The short term outlook remains very positive, especially against the background of a strong world economy and as favourable exchange rates continue to encourage European and Asian travellers,” the U.N. World Tourism Organization said in its World Tourism Barometer. “International tourism is likely to remain buoyant unless major incidents occur.”

Growth for the whole of 2006 is forecast at 4.6 per cent. Growth is expected to continue in 2007 at around 4 per cent worldwide, which though slightly slower than in previous years, is much in line with U.N.’s long-term forecast growth rate of 4.1 per cent a year through 2020.

In the first eight months of 2006 international tourist arrivals totalled 578 million worldwide, up from 553 million in the same period of 2005, a year which saw an all-time record of 806 million people travelling internationally.

With an increase of 9.8 per cent for the period, Africa is this year again the world’s regional leader. Sub-Saharan Africa, with 12.6 per cent leads the performance so far, pulled notably by South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Swaziland and the Seychelles.

Asia-Pacific was the world’s second fastest-growing region in the first eight months with 8.3 per cent. While south and south-eastern destinations surpassed the average growth and  northeast Asia was close to it, arrivals to Oceania were on the negative side.

The Middle East’s results at 6 per cent are on track despite military-political setbacks. Data so far shows that the 34-day conflict between Israel and Lebanon had only very limited impact on the region as a whole. Although it has taken its toll on demand for some destinations, past experience suggests that consumer confidence can recover quickly and international arrivals could end 2006 up by 7.2 per cent.

Europe’s growth of 3.1 per cent is not as modest as it might seem at first glance and if the rate is maintained for the rest of 2006 it would mean 14 million additional arrivals. There has been little evidence of travel plans being cancelled as a result of terrorist threats to aircraft, even to the United Kingdom where the plot was centered.

Overall growth for the Americas was a 2.5 per cent. Central America (8.7 per cent), South America (8.1 per cent) and the Caribbean (5.1 per cent) exceeded the global growth average but North America at 0.4 per cent fell well below, pulled down by declines in Canada (4.1 per cent) and Mexico (3.8 per cent) in spite of the 4.3 per cent growth in the United States.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 222

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Performers from the Cirko Vivo light up the night at the opening of the Casa en Vivo project
New architectural display draws on many local talents
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Jugglers and all kinds of performers from Cirko Vivo helped inaugurate an architectural display Tuesday night in a once-empty building in Barrio Amón.

The project is a promotional one by Grupo Nación and its Su Casa magazine.  The idea also is to help the Municipalidad de San José in its efforts to beautify San José.

A stage on the sidewalk and street at Avenida 7 and Calle 7 hosted performers while guests waited to enter the structure, the former Mireya Gurdián home, which has stood unused for years. It is Gothic in tone with rose-type ornamentation cast from concrete.

The galleries inside contain 30 different architectural proposals in just 700 square meters of space.
One of the central themes is restoring and rescuing older buildings with new and innovative interior architecture styles.  The displays also announced the confidence that the architects of Costa Rica can help shape this vision.

Luz Letelier Bellalta and Pietra Stagno Ugarte are co-founders of the Luz de Piedra architecture company, one of the groups involved in the gallery.  On their Web site they explain that their work focuses on integrating nature into the work space and a passive material use of light.  They also emphasize the use of sustainable energies and proper social treatment for construction workers.

Organizers hope that the gallery will influence future decisions of the municipality of San Jose. 

The gallery will be open to the public on Thursday for a month and an admission is being charged. 

Judicial process seems to swallow some corruption cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The corruption watchdog Transparency International, continued its efforts this week to link corruption with lack of development.

As if on cue, a health ministry worker Tuesday fell into police hands with the allegation that she and an associate tried to extort a bribe from the operator of a freshly rented small soda or restaurant.

A Universidad de Costa Rica professor has estimated that some 90,000 payoffs take place in Costa Rica each year to the tune of $29 million. But the case of Guiselle Ramón Barquero, 55, is unusual. She was arrested. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that Federico Rodríguez had just rented the location for his small restaurant in the  Mercado Borbón in downtown San José.

As an employee with the Ministerio de Salud, the Ramón woman could approve the location and issue a health permit. Instead, agents allege, she asked Rodríguez for $1,000. They said he paid $800.

The Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fiscalía de Delitos Varios of the Ministerio Público got involved, and the next payment of 20,000 colons (about $38.50) was made with marked bills, agents said. Also held is Jorge Chacón Carvajales, 56. He collected 70,000 colons ($135) to do unspecified repairs on the restaurant areas and had been recommended by the Ramón woman, said agents.

Another unusual case is that of Gustavo Valverde Chavarría in Nicoya. He was suspended from his job during a corruption investigation, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial. The action was taken by the Consejo Superior del Poder Judicial after a local television station aired the case. A man said he had been offered a favorable settlement in his court case in exchange for payment.

Transparency is based in Berlin, Germany. Several times a year it releases summaries of corruption studies. The one released Monday involved the self-perception of corruption as reported in several other surveys.

The university professor's survey here was done directly with residents of Costa Rica.

This year Transparency said Costa Rica was ranked 55 of 163 countries and 7th among the nations of the Americas. Canada was 14th worldwide and the United States was 20th.

The numbers are volatile. Costa Rica used to score about 40th in the Transparency surveys. But then two former presidents ended up in jail for a time while prosecutors investigated a pair of high-profile scandals. One was the alleged kickbacks of an estimated $9 million through executives of the firm Corporación Fischel from a $33 million loan for hospital equipment. The other was an alleged payoff by Alcatel, the French telecommunications company that won a major contract to provide cellular telephones in 2002.

The scandals broke two years ago. Former president Miguel Ángel Rodriguez Echeverría lost his post as secretary general of the Organization of American States and spent time in La Reforma prison. Former president  Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier also was in prison for a time.

Rodríguez has since written a book about his treatment and has been critical of the judicial process that seems to have made little progress in two years.

In fact, the judicial process has been strongly criticized for its lack of action with criminal cases. In Nicoya it took a television station to trigger an investigation. The television stations and Spanish-language dailies also pounded on the payoff scandals.

Meanwhile, many bribery cases are investigated for years.

There is a growing frustration among Costa Ricans with judicial solutions to crime, both white collar and of the streets.
U.S. citizens better
think twice!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thinking of giving a bribe to speed up an administrative process?

U.S. citizens should think again. U.S. law forbids giving a bribe to a public official even if the official works for another government and the bribe is paid outside the United States.

One big case centered around U.S. citizen Robert Richard King and his Owl Securities & Investment of Kansas City, Missouri.  The firm wanted to develop a major port facility on Costa Rica’s Caribbean and needed a concession. The U.S. government said that King and others paid up to $350,000 to Costa Rican officials and had plans to pay $1.5 million more in bribes to expedite the plan.

A federal jury convicted him in 2002. Such bribes are prohibited by the U.S. Corrupt Practices Act.

As part of the evidence, U.S. prosecutors presented copies of e-mails that King exchanged with an associate in Costa Rica. The e-mails contained names of those who were supposed to get the money. Included were the names of Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier and José María Figueres Olsen, two former presidents. The 13 others made up a "Who’s Who" of Costa Rican politics.

A Costa Rican official brushed off the e-mails as a trick by King to get more money from investors. No investigation ever took place here.

And with the change in government, lots of dirty linen came out of the closet.

There is the case of the Romanian patrol cars purchased for police. But they do not work well and there are no parts.

There are the continuing cases of small payoffs to Tránsito officers. A new vehicle law proposal would create an office of inspector general to field complaints of bribes. The law, if passed, also would criminalize paying a bribe. But the law also would jack up road fines so that payoffs would be a much better option for a motorist.

On the business front, the multitude of permits and approvals needed to do almost anything create happy hunting for bribe seekers. Rodríguez, the man with the Mercado Borbón soda probably needs up to 10 different approvals in order to open his small restaurant. A large construction project requires 10 times as many.

So it is the overlapping and complex laws that also pave the way for corruption, as has been pointed out many times, including by Transparency, which says corruption hampers development.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez vowed to eliminate corruption, and then his administration was hit with a flood of corruption complaints from acts initiated in or previous to the Abel Pacheco administration.

The Dirección General de Migración was found to be a hotbed of fake documents and special interest with residency permits for sale. There still are a number of complaints from the aduana, the customs service that collects import duties.

One case is that of Costa Rican consuls outside the country preparing documents so that as many as 5,000 motor vehicles could be imported without owners paying the hefty duties.

The foreign ministry said in October 2004 that the Costa Rican consulate in New York was being investigated. Tax officials said the investigation includes South Korean vehicle vendors, Costa Rican notaries and vehicle importers here.

But little has been heard since. And the case just seems to have gone away.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 222

Iceland faces major diplomatic protests over whale hunting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States, 24 other countries and the European Commission have delivered a protest to Iceland's government urging it to halt its ongoing whaling operations and reconsider its decision to start commercial whaling.

The diplomatic protest, formally known as a demarche, was signed by Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the European Commission.

"The fact that 25 countries and the European Commission created such a strongly worded protest demonstrates the breadth of opposition to Icelandic commercial whaling," said Bill Hogarth on Friday. He is U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission and director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  Fisheries Service.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the federal agency of the Commerce Department in charge of managing whales and other marine mammals in U.S. waters.

Iceland announced Oct. 17 that it would resume commercial whaling for the first time in 20 years and would issue permits to hunt nine fin whales and 30 minke whales. Since then, Icelandic whalers have killed seven fin whales and one minke whale.

Oct. 18, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez issued a statement on Iceland’s resumption of commercial whaling, calling the move “disappointing” and saying that “Iceland is going in the wrong direction on the issue.”
Shortly thereafter, the U.S. ambassador to Iceland expressed U.S. displeasure directly to the Icelandic fisheries minister and minister of foreign affairs.

The United Kingdom’s ambassador to Iceland delivered the joint diplomatic protest on behalf of the 25 countries and the European Commission.

“We're extremely disappointed that Iceland has decided to resume commercial whaling in spite of the international ban and absent any agreed upon management system,” Hogarth said. “Its actions undermine the proper functioning of the International Whaling Commission.”

Iceland’s hunts for minke and fin whales will be conducted without any transparency about the country’s compliance measures, enforcement activities or other management measures in place to ensure the country does not exceed its quotas, said the U.S. agency.

Minke and fin whales are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, and fin whales are on the U.S. endangered species list.  The United States strongly and repeatedly has objected to Iceland’s lethal research whaling program, conducted since 2003.  The United States supports the current moratorium that bans commercial whaling, in place since 1986, but also has participated in all negotiations to establish a new system for regulating whaling if the moratorium ends.

In 2004, then-Commerce Secretary Donald Evans certified Iceland under the Pelly Amendment to the U.S. Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967 as a country that was undermining the effectiveness of the 1948 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling through its scientific whaling.  Such a finding authorizes the president to impose sanctions prohibiting imports of fish and fish products from certified countries. 

Mercury will cross the face of the sun today, and event will be visible here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's not a good idea to even look at it without protective equipment, but Mercury will be passing in front of the sun this afternoon, the first time since 2003, according to The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"The transit or passage of a planet across the face of the Sun is a relatively rare occurrence," said NASA. "As seen from
Earth, only transits of Mercury and Venus are possible. There are approximately 13 transits of Mercury each century. In comparison, transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair.

Mercury will appear only 1/194 the size of the sun, so its tiny disk will require a small telescope to see, using a special solar filter to protect the eyes, said NASA. In Costa Rica the transit begins at 1:12 p.m.

Suspect brought back to answer allegations of murdering companion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 24-year-old man is the principal suspect in the strangling death of a woman Saturday evening in Alajuelita.

The man, identified as Carlos Ulloa Corrales, was brought back to San José Monday night to face the allegation. He was located in Batán in the Provincia de Limón.
Dead is Helen Venegas Corrales, 21, a former Batán resident who moved to the Central Valley about threee months ago to be with Ulloa. They lived in Concepción Abajo de Alajuelita.

Investigators said they thought the death was a case of domestic violence. Venegas died when the arms of a sports jacket were pulled around her neck.

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