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(506) 223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 222                  E-mail us
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protesters fight police
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Protestors try to collapse police lines protecting assembly while others trample barriers.
Bomb scare is highlight of an eventful day for treaty
By Elise Sonray and Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bomb scare cut short a legislative session on proposals linked to the free trade treaty Wednesday as a group of protesters knocked down barriers and threatened police.

That was the most dramatic event of a day that also saw:

• The executive branch schedule a formal ceremony next week to ratify the treaty that was approved by popular vote Oct. 7;

• The Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado reject the idea of a $200 million allocation in the national budget of Venezuela to finance political groups in Costa Rica and elsewhere in Central America;

• The foreign minister of Canada visit with President Óscar Arias Sánchez and other officials, in part, seeking to renegotiate parts of the 5-year-old trade treaty between that country and Costa Rica in light of the U.S. trade agreement and a new system of import supervision in Central America.

The bomb scare came shortly before 4 p.m. and about an hour after the Asamblea Legislativa began its daily afternoon session. Francisco Antonio Pacheco, assembly president, ordered an evacuation. No bomb was found as trained dogs swept the complex.

Rafael Araya, regional director of the Fuerza Pública, said that a man called 911 from a public phone to make the threat.

On Avenida Central outside the legislative chambers opponents of the free trade treaty had gathered again Wednesday. They knocked over barricades and engaged in shoving matches with police. One wore a red beret of the type favored by Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan president. Red flags were in evidence.

Other protesters carried signs, and one wore an Óscar Arias mask. Some had their faces covered. 

Police were mounting guard Wednesday night at area homes of lawmakers because treaty opponents promised to stage protests there. A number of groups were represented among the 100 or so demonstrators, but the Bloque Verde environmental group that opposes the treaty had rallied its members for the event.

It was Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, who said earlier Wednesday that a solemn ceremony will be held Nov. 14 in the Teatro Melico Salazar. He said many government officials and citizens would be invited to observe as the first law passed by referendum was signed.

In addition to the treaty, Costa Rica has to pass some 13 laws that will put the concepts of the treaty into force. That must be done by Feb. 1, which is why opponents are trying to impede the work of the legislature.

Rodrigo Arias noted that one measure, a bill that defines the relationship between foreign firms and their agents here, already had been passed on first reading. Opponents criticize the bill because it calls for arbitration that could take place outside of Costa Rica. They say it is a burden for small businesses. The Sala IV constitutional court is studying this proposal.

A bill that would allow investors to patent new varieties of seeds goes to the full legislature Monday after more than 1,000 motions were proposed in committee, Rodrigo Arias noted.
second protest photo
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Demonstrator with red beret tries to push his way past police.

Other more well-known measures still are in committee. They include a new telecommunications law that would open up wireless communication to private companies instead of the government monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. There also is a bill to strengthen that agency and make it more competitive.

There also is a bill that would open up the insurance market to private firms at the expense of the public Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Opponents within the legislature are using parliamentary techniques like excessive motions and failing to show up for session in order to prevent passage.

The complaint by the chamber against Venezuela was aired in a release by Jaime Molina, the organization's acting president. A Caracas newspaper had reported that the Chávez administration had put $200 million in the national budget to finance alternative political movements. Some of the free trade opponents have met with Venezuelan leaders in Caracas.

The money is supposed to orient the foreign policy of Venezuela toward the construction of new poles of power, according to the chamber. They said this was interference in the internal politics of Central American countries.

Late in the day Casa Presidencial said that a top Canadian diplomat was here in hopes of revising the trade agreement between the two countries.

She is Helena Guergis, the secretary of State for foreign affairs and international trade. She met with President Arias and Marco Ruiz, the minister of Comercio Exterior, during her brief visit to San Jose.

During the five years that the agreement has been in place, trade between the two countries has gone up by 40 percent, officials said, and Ms. Guergis' visit was to discuss continuing to modernize the pact.

Since the change of Canada's government from Liberal to Conservative last year, the country has been pursuing a global commerce strategy that intends to make Canada into a more visible presence in the world, by extending free trade with countries throughout the Americas, said officials.

Canada is one of the highest foreign investors in Costa Rica, focussing on areas such as banking, environmental, mining and tourism, and Costa Rican exports to Canada have doubled since the treaty was approved.

Ms. Guergis will finish her trip with a short visit to Nicaragua, a country that is one of the main recipients of Canadian foreign aid.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 222

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Our reader's opinion
Internet thieves quickly took
$22,000 from Banco Nacional

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Is your money safe in Banco Nacional? In a simple answer I would say not or quite doubtful, to say the least, as I will explain.

During the morning of Oct.25 we had an account at Banco Nacional raided by Internet thieves of $22,000.  My Tico business partner had transferred these funds into the account around 10 a.m. to pay for the importation taxes on a number of cars that are waiting in customs for us as part of a routine business transaction for our company. 

In the next two hours five transfers moved the entirety of our deposit into five accounts of complete strangers.  The funds were then taken in cash from the bank by the five members of this ring of thieves.  We managed to alert the bank prior to the final one getting the cash out of the bank and that individual is in custody, thanks to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

So how helpful has Banco Nacional been in this situation? 
How about useless and/or insulting since the best thing they can come up with is to blame us for giving up our account information due to a phishing expedition conducted by these thieves.  To clarify this, be aware that we are sophisticated computer users and have done online banking virtually since the first day that Banco Nacional offered such, hence we most certainly do not fall for such phony pranks. 

I would also submit that anyone that has been using such banking services for any number of years is well aware of what phishing is about and has no trouble in recognizing such.  In fact, we did no such thing and, in fact, over the past months we did not even have an attempt to collect our information.

So now, as a way for the bank to help the innocent client out here, they suggest we wait 90 days while they investigate, and to add insult to injury have even frozen the final $4,000 that did not actually manage to get out of the bank.  The question that remains to haunt me, as well it should the reader, is just how much more money would have been stolen had we had more in this account to support the phony transfers? If it would have been $222,000, would the bank have the same compassionate and responsible answers. 

To say the least this kind of care about the customer service has me furious as this really screws up our business as our inventory is now unavailable to sell due to this, plus we are paying customs charges every day we wait to sort out this mess — a mess that I believe is entirely created by inadequate security at the bank from an activity that reeks of an inside job. 

To put it mildly I find Banco Nacional’s attitude more than a little hypocritical after they spend a serious amount of money enhancing their image through programs like Dance for a Dream, then when a long-term customer gets shafted by Internet thieves and inadequate security, their best answer is to call the customer stupid.

This past two months has seriously affected my attitude towards Costa Rican banks and their attitude to customer service or should I say the complete lack of such or an acceptable level of responsibility. At any rate my account at Banco Nacional is toast, and it will be a frosty Friday in Hell before I go back. 

Meanwhile I am pursuing criminal action, and any other readers who have similar experiences may want to consider joining me in a group action.  No doubt it will be slow, but it is high time they got the message.  I can be contacted at My simple recommendation to readers is to severe any larger holding accounts from Internet access hence cyber theft.
Trevor Chilton
San Antonio de Escazú

This newspaper not helping
to make country better

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I just want to comment on one thing.  It seems more and more that A.M. Costa Rica is reporting on the BAD things about Costa Rica — from Tamarindo polluted beaches to increased crime to corrupt police to now a bad banking system. 

Why is it that the news media gets a bang out of reporting the bad?  Is Costa Rica really that bad?  I visit Costa Rica quit often and truly enjoy the country and what it offers.  But if I was considering Costa Rica for the first time and read your paper daily, I would not be excited about venturing there. 

There is not a country in the world that is perfect, including the United States or Canada.  Why don’t you try to become more pro-active in promoting the good of Costa Rica instead of always reporting what is considered the bad.  I truly believe Costa Rica is making great efforts to move their country forward, but A.M. Costa Rica is not helping.
Martin Kelly
A concerned property owner
of Costa Rica
Officials are failing to act
despite danger to citizens

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This report regarding the contamination at Tamarindo (and other beaches) is a stark warning to the lax efforts of government officials to protect citizens. Now that the precious beaches are in jeapordy, those same officials stick their heads in the sand and scoff at science. Our precious land is at risk. Our sacred citizenry is at risk. And all the protectors of society can say is that there is no definitive proof.

Lose one's reputation, and it may never be recovered. Do nothing and wait. Then the govenment will have the proof it needs as the tourists flock elsewhere and poverty increases.
Stupid is as stupid does.
Peter Monck
Miami, Florida

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 222

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Proposal for oil drilling brings two quick, negative reponses
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The second-largest political party in the legislature and a group of long-time foes to oil drilling have come out against a plan by China to seek petroleum here.

The party, the Partido Acción Ciudadana, said Wednesday that it opposed oil drilling and petroleum exploitation here, and that view was part of the 2006 political platform.

The party called for the development of alternative energies instead.

Oilwatch Internacional said the idea that the government would permit petroleum exploration in the country, this time with Chinese capital, raises a new controversy regarding the environmental policies of the country.
Oilwatch was in the front lines for the successful battle that resulted in Harken Petroleum abandoning plans to do exploratory drilling offshore from Puerto Viejo de Limón.

Chinese officials suggested to President Óscar Arias Sánchez during his recent visit there that they would like to build a refinery in Costa Rica and also explore for oil. China is desperate for more energy because of its fast growth.

China has a poor history of environmental concerns, said Oilwatch, and noted that the government there was supportive of various oppressive regimes in the third world.

Costa Rica opened diplomatic ties with the People's Republic June 1 when it broke relations with Taiwan. Since then, Costa Rican officials have been anxious to cash in on their new relationship.

Northern zone and parts of Limón ravaged by heavy rains
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rain spawned by a cold front exacted a toll on the northern zone and the Provincia de Limón Tuesday night and Wednesday.

All the cantons of Limón were on alert early Thursday as were Upala, San Carlos, Los Chiles and Guatuso in the Provincia de Alajuela and Sarapiquí in the Provincia de Heredia.

The heavy rains were not expected, and the alerts were prompted by a report from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional that heavy rains would continue Wednesday and that rain would continue for several days more.

The northern zone and Limón were generally spared heavy flooding in the last two months while the Pacific coast and the Pacific side of the Nicoya Peninsula suffered.

Wednesday some 60 persons had been placed in shelters, still far less than the more than 1,000 who were looked
after on the Pacific last month. But the northern zone is heavily agricultural, and the losses due to erosion and flooding could be enormous.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that some 12 rivers flooded out of their banks and in some cases cut off entire communities.

Shelters were opened in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí with 30 persons, in the Iglesia La Perla in la Fortuna de San Carlos with 15 persons from the community of Las Vueltas de La Tortuga and in Cariari de Pococí with 15 persons from a  nearby area, said the emergency commission.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that the heavy rains generated river crests that could not be handled by the power generating dams of Cariblanco on the Río Sarapiquí and Peñas Blancas on the Río Peñas Blancas. Some of the surges of water could not be contained by the dams and flowed over them into the river below and added to the flooding downstream, said the institute.

Corporations would face sanctions but not criminal action, committee decides
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Corporations and other commercial entities known here as  personas jurídicas will not be prosecuted for crimes under a revised draft of a change in the penal code that has been informally approved in committee.

The bill originally would have subjected corporations and other entities to criminal prosecution along with their officers and agents in the case of criminal activity. But Luis
Paulino Mora, the president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, said in testimony that the Costa Rican Constitution
only contemplates criminal punishment for humans.

The reform of the penal code is part of the measures in support of the free trade treaty, and it is being studied by a special committee.

The committee decided that corporate entities that are party to a crime would face instead administrative penalties, including suspension of business activities for five years.

The proposed draft also tightens sanctions against those public officials who may seek bribes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 222

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Tightening of U.S.-México border reported by Chertoff
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says measures, such as hiring more agents and installing hi-tech detectors, have resulted in 22 percent decrease in arrests of illegal immigrants along the southern U.S border with Mexico. He says this is a sign U.S. authorities are beginning to get control of the border.

But a separate U.S. government audit released this week found that thousands of illegal migrants made their way undetected through screening procedures at legal ports of entry, such as airports and land border crossings.

Over the past year, the Bush administration has stepped up raids on companies that employ undocumented workers, hired more border control agents, built fences and installed high-tech security devices along the southwestern border.

Chertoff said the tougher enforcement measures have led to more than a 20 percent drop in border arrests. "We are beginning to see a significant turn in the direction of migration. We haven't completed the job yet, but we've made a significant first step and are reversing the tide of illegal migration between the ports of entry," he said.

Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, an independent, non-partisan research group based in Washington, agrees that real progress has
been made in border security, but thinks only time will tell if the gains are lasting.

"To take this progress and say that we're turning the tide is certainly an overstatement. There have been many times in the past 20 years or so that politicians have made similar claims, and six months later, a year later, you know, things turned again," he said.

Chertoff said that arrests in the interior of the United States were up substantially during fiscal year 2007, with criminal charges filed against 863 people, up from 716 the year before.

Despite the progress, a government audit released earlier this week found that thousands of illegal workers came in undetected through legal entry points, such as airports and land border crossings. The Government Accountability Office said weaknesses in U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations increase the potential that terrorists and criminals could enter the country.

A Customs and Border Protection official acknowledged staffing shortages, but doubted that the agency had failed to catch thousands of violators.

Some 400 million people cross U.S. borders each year, and authorities have been unable to screen all of them without disrupting U.S. travel and trade with Canada and Mexico.

Venezuelan students hit by bullets as they leave rally against Chávez reforms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Venezuelan officials say at least four people were wounded after unidentified gunmen opened fire on university students returning from a protest against constitutional changes.

Authorities said late Wednesday that no one was killed in the violence. A government official had initially told local television that one person had died. The exact circumstances of the shooting remain unclear.

The violence erupted after thousands of university students marched to Venezuela's supreme court to demand it
 postpone a referendum on constitutional changes that would expand the power of President Hugo Chávez.

The constitutional changes would eliminate presidential term limits, further socialist reforms by Chávez and strip the central bank of its autonomy. They also would give authorities sweeping powers if a national emergency is declared, including detention without charges and controls on the news media.

Venezuela's opposition parties, human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church have condemned the plan. Former Venezuelan defense minister Raúl Baduel says the changes would amount to a coup d'etat by Chávez.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 222

Professional team Saprissa to play friendly match against La Reforma prisoners
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Deportivo Saprissa soccer team will play in Alajuela Nov. 15, but the professional players won't be facing La Liga.  The professional club will take on a team comprised of players from the La Reforma prison at 10 a.m. as a social outreach project. 

The soccer teams will play a friendly scrimmage consisting of two halves of 25 minutes each instead of the usual 45  
minutes.  The team will play on the field in San Rafael. Representatives from Saprissa emphasized that the match is intended to give support to those who need it and most importantly, everyone should enjoy themselves.

The prison has the correct title of the Centro de Asistencia Institucional.

Sunday Saprissa has a more traditional game at 11 a.m. with Pérez Zeledón at the club's Tibás stadium.

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