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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, in Vol. 9, No. 230       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
Real Estate
About us

A news analysis
Treatment of U.S. visa seekers still hot-button issue

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Elsewhere in the newspaper today are letters about the U.S. Embassy. Most of them are critical of treatment afforded Costa Ricans seeking visas to go north.

There is no way to tell from the letters that readers sent if they represent a fair assessment of the U.S. Consulate at the San José embassy. There are good reasons for refusing Costa Ricans visas. There are many applicants. The junior members of the diplomatic corps who make such decisions are rushed and have just a few minutes.

They also are instructed not to explain their decision, so a rejected applicant can only grumble. There is no appeal, so someone who may have been denied unjustly cannot contest the decision, attempt to explain apparent derogatory information or rebut false information.

The vice consuls who make the decisions are aided by advanced notice of who is appearing for a visa interview and a number of various data bases that might show how an applicant has conducted him or herself on a previous visit to the United States. For example, any applicant who has held a driver's license from any U.S. state probably would be rejected for a visitor's visa.

The consulate has made many mistakes. Not the least was denying initially a visa in 2004 to the Tica mother of a U.S. soldier who had been slain the day before in Iraq. Embassy workers could not find the sergeant's name on a list of dead and assumed the woman was lying. Eventually the woman got the visa in time to attend the funeral at Arlington. The embassy charged her $100.

A year later embassy officials awarded visas to two alleged soccer teams that were supposed to play in friendship tournaments in the United States. The scam was attributed to a trafficker in southern Costa Rica. One team never played. The other team suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a real team. And the Costa Rican players jumped their visas to get illegal jobs in the United States.

At least that is what may have happened. Consular officials promised to investigate but there never was a final report. At the time embassy workers noted that they were not getting information from the Costa Rican immigration agents to find out if Costa Ricans returned home at the legal end of their visa stay.

Lack of information seems to be the continual problem. Eight years after Sept. 11, 2001, data reporting should be more up to date.  If embassy officials do not know if Costa Ricans have returned home, there's a good chance that they also do not know about Saudis and Pakistanis.

The letters today, Thursday and in previous issues show that some people have bad experiences at the U.S. Embassy. This should be something that concerns officials here and in Washington. And one letter writer today suggests that rudeness is not confined to the embassy in San José.

That embassy workers do not give applicants the
Sa mple I.S. visa from State Departmetn Web page
Sample visa from State Department Web page

right of an appeal seems to be un-American,
according to some readers. But the workers here simply are following the rules that cover the entire foreign service. With sufficient data, the State Department could score each consul who awards visas based on the number of successful applicants who jumped their visa to remain in the United States. That might show who is lax, who is too harsh and who harbors undisclosed prejudices.

What would be helpful for Costa Rican-U.S. relations would be an effort on the part of the U.S. State Department to determine the depth of the problem and take steps to enhance the embassy public image.

The embassy needs to begin with interviews of those who applied for a visa. These open-ended interviews are often used in business to discover hidden objections to a company's product. From responses in the interviews, opinion pollsters could construct a valid survey of Costa Ricans to find out about their embassy experiences and impressions. They may find other variables that would be important to U.S. foreign policy at the micro level.

The office in charge of this type of activity is Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the U.S. State Department. That office seems to be mainly focused on the Middle East where the United States has gigantic image problems.

The U.S. Embassy, of course, is not a business. If it were, it would have been bankrupt a long time ago. There is no effort to reach out to customers. There are no night hours for visa applicants. Those who need visas must come during the day only to San José, stand on a long line, sometimes in the rain, just to enter the embassy grounds. The embassy closes on Costa Rican holidays, days that Ticos would be free to apply for visas.

A real sore spot is the decision by the U.S. to require visas for foreigners passing through the country on an airline flight. This decision has hurt U.S. flag carriers and caused a shift in European-bound passenger patterns to Panamá, Caracas and Cuba.

There is no doubt that the embassy has improved its application process. The State Department reports that the wait time for a visitor's visa is now eight days from the time the appointment is set on the telephone to the visa interview.

Some letter writers blame Tico customer service attitudes for the visa problems, but all the vice consuls who make the decisions are U.S. citizens.

Despite the number of reader letters, embassy workers, who spend only a few years on each assignment, seem to easily shrug off criticism.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 230

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Pay dispute leaves Canadian
shot three times in Jacó

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A former security guard, upset about his payoff, shot a Canadian hotel administrator in Jacó Thursday morning.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the victim by the last name of Hubert. They said he was shot three times in different parts of the body.

They said that the secruity guard showed up at the hotel and expected to get his severence pay but that the administrator denied the man the money because the guard could not produce proper identification. The hotel is in the Quebrada Seca section of Jacó.

The guard fled after the shooting and still was being sought Thursday night.

Agents said that according to the gaurd's contract he had to present adequate identification.

Two police officers die
in separate vehicle mishaps

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two police officers, one in the Fuerza Pública and the other in the Policía de Tránsito, died overnight in separate accidents.

The Fuerza Pública officer was Emmanuel Gerardo Quirós Navarro, 24, who was thrown from a police patrol vehicle when it hit a truck on the Bernardo Soto highway a few miles west of the Juan Santamaría airport. Another officer was hurt.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that Quirós was thrown from the vehicle on impact and was run off by another vehicle. He was assigned to the La Garita substation and was just getting off work when the mishap took place.

The Tránsito officer was identified by the last names of Dinarte Vega. He was 51 and on his day off when he was involved in a crash in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste.  He was at the wheel of a vehicle that collided headon with another in oncoming traffic when he tried to pass a slower car, said traffic policemen.

Foreclosures and job losses
dominate U.S. economic news

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Rising home foreclosures and continuing elevated job losses dominated a mostly-somber batch of U.S. economic data Thursday.

It was a rash of home mortgage defaults in the United States that helped precipitate last year's financial meltdown and a global credit squeeze that pushed the United States into the deepest and longest recession of the post-World War II era. Economists say stabilization of homeowners' finances and an overall recovery of America's battered housing industry will be a key to a sustained economic recovery.

Wednesday brought news that new home construction fell unexpectedly last month, reflecting continued softness in the U.S. housing sector and concerns about expiring federal subsidies for first-time homebuyers.

Now, a private group reports that the proportion of American homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments or in foreclosure continues to rise, reaching a record-high for the ninth consecutive quarter.

In 2007 and 2008, unscrupulous lending to borrowers with poor credit was blamed for most foreclosures. Currently, a growing proportion of defaults stems from homeowners with solid financial histories who have lost their jobs. That, according to Jay Brinkman, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association which compiled the report.

"Clearly, the results have been driven by the changes in employment," he said. "We have had about a 5.5 million increase in the number of unemployed in the country over the last year."

The president of the trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance, Guy Cecala, agrees. "Unemployment over 10 percent is creating a great hardship for a lot of borrowers, and that is clearly showing up in the  numbers," he said.

If foreclosures are tied to employment, U.S. job losses are holding steady at an elevated level. The Labor Department reports 505,000 newly-laid off Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, virtually identical to the previous week's total.

On a more positive note, a gauge of future U.S. economic activity continues to rise. The New York-based Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators edged up .3 percent in October. Although an improvement, the rise was less than most economists had anticipated.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 230

Drama builds as racing boats close in on Limón finish
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Trans-Atlantic boat race is generating a lot of interest among businesses, not to mention the people of Limón where the race is supposed to end.

The boats left France Nov. 8, and the winners are expected to arrive in Limón either Saturday or Sunday.  Boats or no boats, it appears that a big party will take place around  Muelle 70 where the boats will dock. 

Planned for the weekend is a commercial fair and organizers are counting on some 15,000 visitors.

There may be no boats. Reports from the crew at sea say that contrary winds have cut their speeds and some are now projecting arrival at Limón Monday or Tuesday. They said they expect more consistent conditions as they pass into the Caribbean from the open Atlantic. The boats are spread out 70 to 100 miles apart.
One visitor Saturday will be President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who is scheduled to show up about 10 a.m.

The good news is that Costa Rica may again be the race destination in 2015. The race takes place every two years. This is the first time that Costa Rica was involved.

No tropical arrival would be complete without bananas, so the Corporación Bananera Nacional is setting up a stand at the commercial fair to promote the produce, it said Thursday.

Some 20 boats left Le Havre at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre, but within two hours one craft, the Actual, capsized in heavy wind.  The Hugo Boss dropped out of the race and put up in the Azores after it hit a floating object as it was sailing along in 48 knot winds.

The race may be followed on the official Web site. The boat captains give live reports via radio several times a day.

Changes in the neighborhood are not improvements
When I first moved into this neighborhood, it was pretty much residential.  Across the street is the city office for the Tabacon resort, which is near Lake Arenal. On the corner going west from my apartment is a tiny sidewalk soda.  That, and a handy pulperia next door to it and dry cleaners pretty much completed the commercial enterprises in that direction. There was a furniture store (once someone’s home) around the corner from me, going south, that sold what I considered eccentric furniture and was usually devoid of customers.

On the corner of the Avenida de Los Americas was a Benihana restaurant (most notable as a landmark of where to turn to get to my apartment).  So generally speaking, it has been a relatively quiet upscale residential barrio. That was then.

Now changes are taking place. There are several apartments and houses for rent, including one large white Tara lookalike with 20-foot pillars holding up an eight-foot long balcony, where I can picture Scarlett standing, shading her eyes, on the lookout for that scandalous Rhett Butler.

I love walking through apartments and houses that are for rent or sale.  I managed to go into this one when the workmen were painting it.  Every room inside was white, upstairs and down.  It dazzled and tired the eyes, and I didn’t feel like imagining I lived there. 

Nearby are several apartments with rental signs.  The only apartment I have been inside of is on the 12th floor of the high rise that was recently finished.  It too was huge, with white rooms, with luxurious bathrooms but with an unimpressive kitchen.  The most notable aspects were the two balconies, one facing south and one north, each with 180-degree views. But a 12th floor balcony on a windy day would prove too much for my vertigo.

Benihana’s, next to it, has closed, as has the furniture store on the corner after Benihana’s.  I had high hopes that the furniture store would metamorphose into a perfect restaurant with perfect prices with a view of the street through its large windows and that Benihana would re-open as a boutique shop specializing in Asian food products.
The furniture store is now Estacion Atocha, a Spanish restaurant, but they have curtained the floor to ceiling windows so that it is not the almost-sidewalk cafe I had
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

hoped for.  But since the space in front of the windows is reserved for parking, all a diner would see is the hoods and bumpers of cars.  The owner has told me that the upstairs balcony will be for drinks and tapas.   When that opens I shall certainly try it — if they raise the heavy shades now enclosing it.

It seems once inside a building in Costa Rica, there is no desire to see out.  Two restaurants downtown, one that I complimented the owner on because of the large windows looking onto the sidewalk (and people on the sidewalk could see all the happy diners) have now covered their windows with posters showing pictures of their special dishes for the passersby to see.  

Am I the only one who likes to look out when I am in?  This is the one aspect of the Costa Rican culture that continues to baffle me. 

I can report on the Okedoki market (nee Benihana). It is not an Asian market (although the clerk told me the owner is Korean). It has every snack food known to humankind in handy plastic bags.  It also has canned goods and rice and other stuff that I already can find in my handy pulperia (whose owner is Chinese).

As for my street, the homes and former apartment buildings have become strange new businesses (with more cars and deliverymen on motors). One has a sign identifying itself as “APLICON,” and claims to be a Fujitsu distributor and an “authorized reseller of Lasefiche.”  Then there is the “Satelite Service Security” (somewhat menacing, if you ask me) and the Sertur Travel Agency.  Tiffany Travel, Eco-travel, even Tropical Travel, I can understand, but Sertur Travel?

My nice Mr. Rogers neighborhood seems to have entered a brave new world about which I am ignorant.  Well, that’s understandable, I still can’t open stuff that people Internet me in Power Point.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 230

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Readers comment on their experiences at U.S. Embassy

Instead of visitor visa
he had to get green card

Dear A.M. Costa Rica

I must add to the poor embassy service. So I have been in Costa Rica for five years, married to my Tica wife for three years and we have a 2-year-old daughter. Waiting for my residency for two years also. 

Last summer my Dad became sick in the States with final stage cancer. He had two months left. I went to the embassy with my wife and tried to get her a tourist/emergency/whatever we could get visa as I had to return to the States because I am an only child and I was needed. Also wanted my daughter to at least see her grandpa one time.

My daughter has dual citizenship so traveling on U.S. passport is no problem for her. These folks at the embassy were so rude, would not even look at the cancer letter, certified and notarized from the U.S. All those rude people could say was sorry, denied.

I had to spend $2,000 and get her a green card to visit the  States. They made me jump through hoop after hoop, trying to turn me away, not understanding the stress and chaos they caused for my family. 

Yes. I am ashamed to be American the way they run the embassy here.  If I ever see the American guy from the embassy, outside the embassy who was so mean to me and my family . . . .  Publish what you can and what you want to. You have my permission.

Michael Hawf

Guard questioned passport
at entrance to embassy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I recently read with interest about the problems that your readers experienced at the U.S. Embassy here in Costa Rica.

The last time I visited the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, two years ago,  I was asked for my identification to enter.  I handed the guard my U.S. passport.  The guard looked at it and asked me for a second identification.  I usually carry other ID, but that day I inadvertently forgot to bring them.  I was shocked that my passport was accepted in 40 countries over the last 12 years, but not accepted at my own U.S. Embassy!  When I was sent to Vietnam I did not even need a U.S. passport!

This nonsense really makes a person wonder what is going on??  It is no wonder U.S. citizens are angry and disgusted.

I was born in the U.S. I served in the U.S. military for four years and I’m a Vietnam vet.  I was a licensed insurance adjuster and a private investigator for 25 years up till the time I retired.  I passed routine P.I., FBI checks for the same time period at license renewal time.  I still have a U.S. drivers license and collect Social Security retirement benefits.

I have been a U.S. taxpayer for over half a century.

Certainly, I’m in their computer along with a photo.

Our conversation got real ugly and after holding up the line for an extended period of time, they asked me to step aside to let non-U.S. citizens and Costa Rican employees to go ahead of me, and I refused.  It was clear to me that they simply wanted to harass me.   Eventually they realized they had a tiger by the tail and let me in.

I have had no other problems with other U.S. embassies worldwide. No other U.S. or foreign embassies ever asked me for a second form of identification when my U.S. passport was presented to them.  In fact many accepted a photocopy of my passport!

I’m in no hurry to return to the embassy here.

Jim Peck
San Jose

Business partners fail
to get visa for the States

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading the recent articles concerning Costa Rica citizens obtaining visas to visit the United States. You can add me to your list of complaints.

My partners and I are constructing a home in Costa Rica. Two of us are contractors by trade, and we invited our contractor and his wife to visit us in the United States as a reward for a job well done and to discuss our Costa Rica contractor purchasing some construction equipment for shipment to Costa Rica.

These people have been denied visas twice even though they have four minor age children at home, are under contract to finish our home and have an ongoing business with employees. We have asked for help from a U.S. senator but their office has not been able to resolve the issue.

We were also told that the people at the embassy were rude and condescending. I personally am embarrassed at the way the U.S. Embassy treats people. To the best of my knowledge Costa Rica is not operating any terrorist cells. This is an issue of bureaucrats at work and nothing more. These type of people and the politicians that will do nothing to direct their actions are the reasons more Americans are not spending more time in Costa Rica. We love the people and their country. I just want the Costa Ricans to know that not all Americans feel this way.

Looking forward to many friendships in Costa Rica.

John Nystrom  
Pierre, South Dakota
Letters are being sent
to members of Congress

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Keep the letters coming on the U.S. Embassy.
I am copying each one and sending them on to my congressman and senator. I am hoping every one else will do the same. Maybe we can get something done with these idiots.
After having a 10-year visa and traveling to the U.S. six times, my mother-in-law was refused a new visa. She was told to come back when she has a good job and a good bank account. She is 70 years old! What a joke.
Robert Woodrow

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some U.S. lawmakers might have read them already. Some senators and U.S. representatives subscribe to our daily digest. They want to retire where it's warm, too.

Girlfriend left crying
after being denied visa

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In reading this article concerning the attitude of the U.S. Embassy. I am also ashamed in the way they handle and speak to the Costa Ricans here.
My girlfriend at the time now my wife for over 15 years had a similar experience. I even went with her and was spoken to through a little window. The man had no name tag and told me to go away. Spoke to her. She has a house in her name, money in the bank. along with all the papers, passport needed. Along with ticket and return flight. She left crying and was denied.
I called and spoke with my congressman and senator in the U.S.A. about how she was treated. They told me the embassies around the world do this without any retribution and can on "feelings" deny visas. Collecting "fees" must be their end game.
The senator office did send a letter and spoke with them here. She was granted another visit and was granted a 30-day visa.
I would still call our senators and congressman explain the treatment and get names. The ambassador here works for us!! ?? I guess there is so much fraud that unless you take it to a higher level, you're denied.
Gordon Lindley

Serviceman blew his top
a U.S. Embassy in Israel

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

These stories by the two gentlemen written about the embassy treatment (one man, whom I know, is a fine person) brought back memories to when my husband and I were in Israel. Although we are not Americans, we had to use the library at their embassy. While we were waiting in the waiting room, a older gentleman was trying to get into the front door, but he was pushing instead of pulling.

A young man in military uniform, bellowed out "would somebody tell that A*&@**le to pull on that GD door."

All of us in the waiting room were absolutely shocked at the display of the young man. My husband then walked over and helped the man inside. That was in 1990, so things haven't really changed that much over 20 years. What ever happened to manners and respect for another person?

Sorry, to here your stories, gentlemen. And good luck with your next ventures.
Cathy Knorr
Santa Ana

Here's a great experience
from helpful embassy staff

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I read Steven Mudd's from Alajula's letter about his and his wife's experience at The U.S. Embassy applying for a visa.
Recently Oct 16, my wife Dina and our son Jarrel, both Ticos never having had a visa, and I went into the embassy for our final interview for a K3 visa for her and a K4 for him. Homeland Security in the U.S.A. took 13 months to approve the original application, and we did have to provide additional documents,

I had a Immigration lawyer from Jacksonville, Florida, who does nothing but immigration work prepare everything.

On the day of the embassy interview we were told 1.) we had the wrong background on our photos, 2.) one of the forms while completed had not been done on line and therefore had to be redone, and 3.) we were short the second page of their biographical page. You can imagine our hearts sank. However, the woman at the Embassy was wonderful she told us exactly what to do and where to go and in about an hour we completed what we had to and had the visas.
My wife Dina is currently with me in the U.S., and we hope to bring our son in the new year.
So have faith, and hire a good immigration lawyer and you will get the visa.
Patrick Mach
St. Augustine, Florida

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 230

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More poor people predicted
for Latin America in crisis

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Nine million more people in Latin America will fall into poverty this year due to the global economic crisis, bringing the total number of poor in the region to 189 million, or 34 per cent of the population, according to a United Nations report released Thursday.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which produced the report, stated that the new estimates depart from the trend towards poverty reduction that was prevalent in the region thanks to greater economic growth, the expansion of social spending and better income distribution.

“We can’t say that all that was attained between 2002 and 2008 has been lost,” said Alicia Bárcena, commission executive secretary, as she presented the report, "Social Panorama of Latin America 2009."

“However, the rise in poverty calls us to action. We need to rethink social protection programs with a long-term, strategic perspective and measures that make the most of human capital and protect the income of vulnerable families and groups,” she added.

The commission recommended, among other things, reforming social protection systems and adopting both urgent short-term measures as well as strategic long-term ones.

“In doing so, governments should avoid fiscal irresponsibility and rigid labour markets, increase taxes progressively, redistribute social spending and extend coverage of social services,” the commission stated.

The commission also noted that the projected increase in poverty for 2009 will impede efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the globally agreed targets to slash poverty, hunger and a host of other social ills, all by 2015.

At the same time, the impact of the current crisis on poverty in the region is not expected to be as great as with previous crises, such as the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, it pointed out.

France and Brazil embrace
unified plan on emissions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

France and Brazil have agreed on a common policy to push industrialized nations toward massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio da Silva announced the plan in a joint document.  The agreement urges the world's top carbon-emitting nations, including the United States and China, to significantly curb those emissions by 2050.

The two leaders are calling for cooperation between developed and emerging nations in order to meet international climate change goals.

Brazil pledged to reduce its emissions up to 39 percent by 2020, largely through controlling deforestation.  That pledge was hailed by the head of the European Union executive as a potentially decisive step in the fight against climate change.

World leaders will meet in Copenhagen next month to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The U.S. has not ratified the Kyoto treaty.

The U.N. climate change conference will be held Dec. 7-18, and the U.N. says 40 heads of state have pledged to attend.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 230

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Dogs will have their day
in Escazú this Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The World Woof Tour will be at Country Day School in Escazú Saturday promoting the adoption of pound dogs.

The tour is sponsored locally by the Arco de Noé. The main character is Oscar, a mutt who looks vaguely similar to Tramp of Disney movie fame.

The human half is Joanne Lefson, a South African who adopted Oscar from a shelter in 2004. They have been travelling the world since May promoting animal welfare. They visited or plan to visit 30 countries.

The event Saturday is from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Sponsors promise low-cost vaccinations, dog and cat adoption from several national associations, free veterinarian consulting and training demos and police and rescue dog shows.

More information is available HERE!

Argentine judge backs
registering gay marriage

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An Argentine judge has granted a homosexual couple permission to marry, setting a precedent that could pave the way for the Catholic country to become the first in Latin America to allow same-sex marriage.

The ruling by Buenos Aires Judge Gabriela Seijas ordered the city's civil registry to officially confirm the marriage of Alejandro Freyre and José Maria Di Bello.

The decision could increase pressure on Argentine lawmakers to debate a stalled gay marriage bill currently deadlocked in Congress.

Buenos Aires became the region's first municipality to approve civil unions for gay couples in 2002 and was followed by several other jurisdictions countrywide.

Same sex civil unions are also allowed in Mexico City and Uruguay, which became the first country to legalize the practice in 2007.

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