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(506) 2223-1327               Published Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 222        E-mail us
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The Tribunal, the election cops, are on the job
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When elections are held in February, there is a pretty good chance that the results will be generally accepted because the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones is on the job.

This is the fourth branch of the Costa Rican government whose Constitutional mandate is to assure that the elections are carried out under conditions of unrestricted freedom and guarantees.

The Tribunal tries to establish the ground rules so that the election is carried out in a way that is described in civics texts: Each voter seeks out information from many sources and then makes an intellectual decision.

The problem is that there are many more influences on voters than the authors of civics texts considered. The Tribunal and the election rules try to counteract these influences as best they can. For example, the president of Costa Rica, whoever he or she is at the time, is prohibited from making an endorsement.

The situation got a little dicey this year because the Liberación Nacional candidate is Laura Chinchilla, who is widely regarded as the protegee of Óscar Arias Sánchez. When Arias mentioned that he would love to see a woman as president, Tribunal magistrates frowned.

Those flattering Sunday night television spots are gone. They are called the Cadena Nacional in which the president gets a guaranteed audience on television and radio stations. Casa Presidencial had to drop these glowing spots last month because the fear was that the executive branch would influence voters.

Sometimes the Tribunal goes too far. Last week it told government-run banks to drop their advertising. The Tribunal told the banks to restrict any public pronouncements to technical changes in banking operations. That rule lasted about 24 hours until it was reevaluated. Banks are businesses, and if they do not advertise, they lose market share. So now the rule is that banks may advertise but must stop short of glorifying the current ruling party.

The Tribunal also keeps close rein on public opinion polling organizations. Such firms must register, and the publication of poll results is restricted close to election day. That rule may be an infringement of a voter's rights, but the Tribunal is worried about bogus poll results in
Tribunal graphic

favor of a specific candidate. Such things have happened. A classic case was displayed in the 1968 Venezuelan presidential elections when one of the major Caracas dailies drastically changed the alleged poll results between editions. The final version reduced the frontrunner to a distant third and the newspaper's champion strongly in first place. That is not the way the election turned out.

Certainly some voters spend time studying the issues. But most cast their vote for emotional reasons. Many will vote for or against Laura Chinchilla because she is a woman. Some will vote for Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana because they feel it is his turn. Richard Nixon had a five o'clock shadow when he debated John Kennedy in 1960. Many observers said that cost him the election. The entire election process anywhere is designed to touch emotional chords in voters.

Politicians all over the world know that the way to reach the hearts of voters is through television, a medium that is not well suited for discussion of major issues. The current crop of television ads from major candidates seem to lack focus. An exception is the short ads for Luis Fishman of Unidad Social Cristiana which hammer at the security theme.

The Tribunal certainly is monitoring the television efforts. In fact, the Tribunal does a lot of work that is unseen by the public. A complaint against a candidate generates what amounts to a court case with a lengthy written decision. After all, the magistrates are picked by the Corte Supreme de Justicia and have the same qualifications as a magistrate there. The Oct. 7, 2007, national referendum on the free trade treaty with the United States generated a flood of formal complaints and caused a minority of treaty opponents to claim the election was rigged. Such claims still can be found on local computer discussion lists.

The Tribunal was set up exactly so it will not be partial to any candidate or issue. The Tribunal's Registro Civil maintains the voter rolls and even handles citizenship applications. Not only does the Tribunal pick election judges and conduct the vote count, it maintains order. The Tribunal now directly controls the Fuerza Pública so that the police forces will not be used in skewing the vote. There was a formal ceremony last month where the security minister relinquished direct control of the police units in favor of the Tribunal.


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San José, Costa Rica,Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 222

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Another judicial agent hurt
in Hatillo exchange of gunfire


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another judicial policeman became the victim of a gunshot Monday in the section known as Ciudadela 25 de Julio in Hatillo, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

He was identified as Kenneth Monge Quirós, an eight-year veteran who worked for about six years in courthouse security.

Monge and three other agents were checking out activities in an abandoned police mini-station in the area and encountered men. One pulled a gun and shot Monge. A suspect was found later in a nearby home suffering from a gunshot wound.

Monge suffered a serious injury and was taken to Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Two other individuals present during the brief gun battle were detained. Agents said that the former police station is now a place where persons congregate and use drugs.

Last week Randall López Garita, another judicial agent, died in a confrontation with murder suspects in San Antonio de Escazú. Oct. 20 Ronny Sojo Chacón, another agent, died while he and other officers tried to arrest a robbery suspect.

Wednesday is holiday
at some embassies


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday is Veterans Day or Remembrance Day when fallen members of the military services are commemorated.

The U.S. Embassy will mark the day by closing, because Veterans Day is a U.S. holiday. The day also is a legal holiday in Canada, but that embassy has made no announcement.

In Costa Rica ceremonies are being postponed until Sunday where a joint afternoon service will be held at the International Baptist Church in Escazú.

Remembrance Day is what Nov. 11 is called in the Commonwealth of Nations, which includes Britian, Canada and Australia and South Africa.

The actual day is always Nov. 11, the day on which the guns of World War I fell silent and the war ended.

The day also is called Poppy Day because disabled veterans used to sell paper poppies to recall the flowers that quickly grew over the World War I graves. Now veterans organizations sell the flowers to collect funds for assisting their peers.

Map of volcano prepared

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission has prepared a detailed map of areas that might be affected by Volcán Turrialba. The mountain continues to emit acidic gases.

The volcano's neighbors, both human and animal are suffering from the gases, and vegetation has been destroyed.

However, experts say that the situation is normal. The national park at the volcano has been closed, not only because of the volcanic activity but because the roads are in bad shape.

Officials also decided to install more monitoring devices.


Our reader's opinion
Limón dock workers have
a right to disrupt port

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article appearing Monday regarding the dockworkers at Puerto Limón/Moín was biased. The principle duty of any union is to serve its members by negotiating and enforcing its contracts. SINTRAJAP is a dock workers union, not a social club that operates on the behalf of cruise lines and fruit companies.

These workers did not receive their last negotiated wage increases (you failed to mention that). It is the workers obligation to disrupt service at the port if the employer signs agreements and then disregards them. A legal contract is just that. When one party fails to meet its obligations it suffers consequences. In this case JAPDEVA did not meet its obligations to its workers.

Selling out good jobs for one-time lump sums is usually unwise. Decent wages support entire communities. A $99,000.00 lump-sum sounds nice, but the entire community will suffer if the lump sum is exchanged for a future of low-wage, low-benefit jobs. An increasingly rapid “race-to-the-bottom” for the benefit of corporate agriculture and cruise lines will continue to mire Costa Rica’s Caribbean communities in poverty.

If collectively bargained agreements are honored by both parties, I’m certain efficiency would be improved and private investment could be attracted to improve the ports for the benefit of port users and the national economy. Someone needs to hold the line and the long shore and stevedore unions have a long history of standing up to big business. We should all be thankful that workers and their unions still have backbones. Don’t be so quick to point fingers at the workers for all of the problems at hand.  
Craig W. Weir
Reston, Virginia

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

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San José, Costa Rica,Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 222

Two state banks investigated for linked sales to customers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The economics ministry's competition agency has launched an investigation of two state banks for what is being described as illegal linked sales.

The entities involved are the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica and the Banco Popular y de Desarrollo Comunal.

The agency is the Comisión para Promover la Competencia within the Ministerio de Economía, Industría y Comercio.

The type of sale being investigated is one where the purchase of one item is dependent on purchasing another.

In the case of banks, the commission said that offering services like a loan or a credit card might be linked to other
customer affiliations like choosing the bank as a pension manager or insurance agent. Such practices are considered monopolistic, according to the consumer law, said the agency. Fines can run up to 75 million colons or about $132,000. In special cases the agency can set the fine at 10 percent of the company's sales or 10 percent of its net worth.

The use of such tactics can reduce the number of competing firms and limit the options of consumers. The investigation was prompted by a citizen complaint, said Ana Victoria Velázquez, director of the consumer agency.

The commission asked that anyone having a similar complaint contact them at 2235-3125 or via fax at 2235-2575. The agency also has an e-mail address for an investigator: kmejias@meic.go.cr


Biking czars trying to put brakes on La Ruta competition
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's coast-to-coast bike race begins in Jacó Wednesday, but the national bicycle federation has pulled its approval of the race even as foreign racers were getting off planes.

The race is La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a four-day event that takes bikers to Limón with overnight stops in Santa Ana and Turrialba. Organizers said they expect 200 participants.

The Federación Costarricense de Ciclismo made a last-minute decision to pull its approval of the race and to threaten fines and penalties against any licensed Costa Rican bike racer who participates. The federation also said it was considering unspecified criminal action.

When the federation approved the race last week, it said that all Costa Rican participants had to be licensed by it and that any foreign participants had to be licensed by their country's biking organization.

Apparently Román Urbina and Pipa León, organizers of La
Ruta, sent a message to the federation questioning why they need approval for the race. This is the 17th edition of the race.

The board of directors of the federation received the message Sunday and decided to stand its ground.

The federation threatened fines of from $45 to $90 if licensed racers participated.

Many of the foreign racers who participate have no formal relationship with biking organizations in their home country. The race is open to all, including recreational bikers.   Costa Rican racers pay $50 a year to the federation for a license that allows them to participate in sanctioned races.

Meanwhile, La Ruta said that some 17 foreign racers already have arrived. The federation is trying to block the race because it said it was sending notification of its position to a number of government agencies, including the Tránsito authorities.

La Ruta made no mention of the flap on its Web site.


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Northern zone gets a once-over from police-in-training

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are not a lot of regulations enforced in the northern zone, so when police and other law officials staged some training exercises there they had easy pickings.

The work ranged from confiscating improperly packaged food to drunk drivers. Some residents had expired licenses and others were carrying weapons. They also found 12 illegal immigrants from nearby Nicaragua.

The training exercise involved the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad showing local police how to maintain checkpoints and conduct vehicle searches. Also involved were Tránsito officers, immigration agents and employees from the Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal. That last agency has responsibilities for some food inspections.

The efforts were Los Chiles de Aguas Zarcas in the Cantón de San Carlos as well as San Humberto and La Virgen in the Cantón de Los Chiles, said the Ministerio de Gobernación Policía y Seguridad Pública.  Some 69 vehicles were checked in San Carlos, and three were confiscated due to paperwork irregularities. Some 11 drivers got tickets. One driver was held as a drunk.

That driver tried to evade the police checkpoint and almost ran down two officers, said the ministry.

Police also found a carbine, a 9-mm. pistol and a .38-caliber revolver. In no case did those who had the guns have permission.

In the Cantón de Los Chiles police checked 45 more vehicles and found one more drunk driver.

The inspections included taxis, buses and informal taxis. that was where 12 illegal Nicaraguans were found and returned to their country, said the ministry.

Several types of foodstuffs were confiscated including
Nicaraguan fish
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These fish appeared to have come from Nicaragua

motorist arrested
Police check out one northern zone driver.

fish that appeared to come from the Lago de  Nicaragua. Some 13 kilos (29 pounds) of sausage was found to be rotting, and 20 kilos of cheese, some 44 pounds, were being transported in an unhealthy manner, the ministry said.

Officers also found a wide range of pharmaceuticals that was for sale privately in a bus station.


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San José, Costa Rica,Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 222

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Sea level rise increasing
along Australian coasts


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire srvices

Scientists say that along the coast of Western Australia sea levels are rising at a rate double that of the world average.
 
Statistics from Australia's National Tidal Center show sea levels have increased by 8.6 millimeters a year off Perth and by 8.1 off the tropical Kimberley region over the past two decades. The global average is a rise of just over three millimeters, about .12 of an inch.

For much of the past century there were average global increases of 1.7 millimeters a year, but that rate doubled between 1993 and 2007. Some regions, notably Western Australia have suffered more than others, partly, scientists say, because of how gravitational pull affects tides.

Scientists at CSIRO, Australia's government-funded scientific research institute, say that climate change has played a role in the increase. Warmer temperatures cause water to expand, a phenomenon called thermal expansion, and cause glaciers and polar ice caps to melt.

Climatologists say that greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide from burning oil and coal, contribute significantly to global warming.

John Church is a researcher at CSIRO.
 
"I think the fact that sea levels are rising is a major reason for concern and it's a combination of the global average rise together with the natural variability leading to larger regional rises over certain periods and extreme events as in storm surges which will have the most impact," Church said.
 
About 80 percent of Australians live in coastal areas. There are fears that some low-lying communities may have to be abandoned in years to come because of flooding and erosion. And with higher sea levels, heavy rains and massive tides known as storm surges, which often accompany tropical storms, can do unexpected damage.
 
There are increasing demands that future development be more sensitive to rising sea levels and the threat of storm surges.
 
Some climate scientists think the Australian continent is particularly susceptible to a shifting climate and predict a greater incidence of droughts, floods and storms as the Earth warms.
 
Next month, global climate change talks will be held in Copenhagen. Nations hope to reach an agreement of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the damage from global warming.


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Environmental group plans
demonstration at hearing


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental group Preserve Planet said Monday that it would demonstrate before the Corte Suprema de Justicia Thursday when magistrates hold an oral hearing on the  Crucitas open pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica.

The Poder Judicial specifically requested that there not be any demonstrations.

Luis Diego Marín of the organization said that more than 90 percent of Costa Ricans do not approve of the project.

Meanwhile, Infinito Gold Ltd. said that its subsidiary in Costa Rica, Industrias Infinito S.A. has received notification from the constitutional court, or Sala IV, that magistrates have voted in favor of a component of the legal challenges which have halted construction on the project.

Specifically, the constitutional court ruled that it was not contrary to the Costa Rican Constitution for the president and the minister of the environment of Costa Rica to issue a presidential decree Oct. 17, 2008, declaring the Crucitas project to be in the national interest.

This decree authorized the issuance of a change in land use, which allowed clearing trees to begin on the project.

However, Infinito noted that there are still legal injunctions in place which prohibit activity on part of the project site pending a further decision. The hearing Thursday is a precursor to this decision, it said.

While the hearing is currently scheduled for one day, the notification contains a provision that additional time may be scheduled if required. The company's Costa Rican lawyer said that the hearing is being used by magistrates to further review the case.

A formal site inspection by two magistrates took place Sept. 11. The inspection included a tour of the mine site and surrounding areas to observe specific technical and environmental aspects of the project as well as to witness the extensive social and educational programs that have been implemented by Industrias Infinito over the last several years in the small communities surrounding the project area, the company said.








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