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(506) 223-1327               Published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 231                  E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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A pedestrian has to walk in the street because police have set up security barriers in front of Castillo Azul and the rest of the legislative complex on Avenida Central.
barrier at Castillo Azul
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Frustrated treaty opponents spawn a radical element
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is still divided over the free trade treaty, but approval of the document in an Oct. 7 referendum has spawned a radical fringe who would use violence to prevent adoption.

Evidence for this fact includes steel barriers around the building housing the Asamblea Legislativa and the decision by the executive branch to hold a sedate validation of the treaty in Casa Presidencial today instead of the originally planned major spectacle in a downtown theater.

An analysis on the news

For some, their political position against the trade treaty with the United States has transformed itself into what is close to a religious fervor. They see themselves as protectors of the country and the central government and legislators as traitors or worse. This mindset gives them license to break the law, all in the name of saving the country.

So far what is being called the Movimiento de Resistencia Nacional has manifest itself with demonstrations at the Asamblea Legislativa and at the homes of some legislative deputies. Legislative leaders put up polarized film on a window separating the public from the desk of lawmakers. Visitors were posting derogatory signs and making rude gestures from the gallery.

The action cranks up a notch today at 9 a.m. as union members, students and others opposed to the treaty protest in front of Casa Presidencial.

Then Monday employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and others will march from Sabana Norte to the legislative buildings on Avenida Central to show their opposition. The trade treaty opens the government monopolies to competition.

Although the treaty has been approved, it will not go into force until lawmakers pass about a dozen changes in the law that make the Costa Rican codes conform to what the treaty requires.

Also Monday, those who oppose certain changes in intellectual property laws will protest in front of the legislature and later conduct serenades at the homes of lawmakers.

The core radicals who oppose the treaty are different than the majority of those who are exercising their right to protest. In part, the radicalized element is the product of the leaders of the anti-trade treaty movement because early on  
opponents chose the title of patriotic movement and helped create a moral divide. They used rhetorical overkill to urge on their followers. These phrases found fertile ground in the minds of those who already were anarchists, communists and revolutionaries.

Assistance, either moral or financial, of the authoritarian Latin regimes, such as Venezuela and Cuba, figures in the equation.

One rallying point for  hard-core opponents is the difference between pre-referendum opinion polls and the outcome. Polls showed a likely victory of opponents. In fact, one leader gave a press conference before the voting ended in which he predicted incorrectly that his side would win by 10 percent.

To many opponents and certainly to the radical fringe, a victory for the free trade treaty is conclusive evidence of trickery on the part of the government. More preceptive individuals might look for a consistent bias in the way the pre-referendum polls were conducted.

Treaty opponents also cannot stand the idea that they were out maneuvered by Arias and those in favor of the agreement. Three days before the vote, the U.S. trade representative said in Washington that there would be no renegotiation of the treaty and that the favorable tariffs afforded Costa Rica under the Caribbean Basin Initiative might vanish. Costa Rican newspapers and electronic outlets carried the story two days and a day before the vote and certainly affected some fence sitters.

So now treaty opponents are calling the government, the news media and President Óscar Arias Sánchez crooked, corrupt and people who are selling out the country.

There is a cultural element to the situation, too. Costa Ricans generally are poor losers, be it sports or politics. They also do not see any decision as conclusive: A signed contract is simply an invitation to further negotiations. So some opponents feel bound by the referendum decision. In fact, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados. a major treaty opponent, says several times on its Web site that the referendum did not vote on passage of the key legislative changes.

Some of the leaders of the opposition have withdrawn into private life as they see the radical fringe moving out of control.

The irony is that Óscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is facing the possibility of mounting political violence at home.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 231

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Nicaragua's Ortega visits
here Thursday to see Arias

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, is coming to Costa Rica for a short visit Thursday, officials here announced Tuesday.

Ortega, the Sandinista leader, will arrive at Juan Santamaría airport at 10 a.m. where he will be greeted by President Óscar Arias Sánchez, said Casa Presidencial. The two heads of state will then visit Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry for private talks, according to the schedule released by Casa Presidencial.

The foreign ministry said that Ortega was responding to an invitation advanced by Arias last Aug. 21 while Arias was in Nicaragua. Arias was there to commemorate 20 years of peace in Central America. Arias won the Nobel Prize for Peace because he helped draft the successful peace plan.

Ortega did not attend the ceremony put on by Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo there.

The foreign ministry said that Arias and Ortega had an open agenda for talks, but the discussion certainly will cover the suit that Costa Rica is bringing against Nicaragua in the World Court in the Hague over freedom to travel on the Río San Juan, which is Nicaragua territory.

Ortega has had a difficult presidency so far. His country was hit by a major hurricane, and the damage was substantial. He has professed solidarity with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and the Chávez desire to create an economic system other than that involving the empire to the north, the United States.

Although Arias had been critical of Chávez, he had mutted his views considerably after the Venezuelan officials threatened in February to shut down an aluminum fabricating plant in Esparza that employes 400 persons.

Officials optimistic on loan
to rebuild Limón area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister in charge of developing a major project at Limón Tuesday was in Washington seeking $72.5 million from the World Bank.

He is Marco Vargas, minister of Coordinación Interinstitucional.  Reports from Washington are optimistic, and Casa Presidencial said that the Proyecto Limón Ciudad Puerto will be a reality in 2008.

The project seeks to improve the port facilities but also restore a number of historic structures in Limón centro.

The government said that when the project is finished, Limón will be the first city in Costa Rica to have 100 percent sewerage, which also will reach Limoncito, Evanco and the vicinity of Playa los Baños where the investment will improve the quality of the sea water.

In addition, the proposal would bring the railroad to the docks which will mean reconstruction of a bridge over the Río Chirripó and work in Leesville and Moín. This will require an investment in more railroad equipment and officials hope to be able to offer an urban passenger train service.

One of the big needs is for dredging the Río Limoncito to prevent future flooding, officials have said. Barrios San Luis and Santa Fe have suffered from flooding.

The project is intended to revitalize Limón and to attract more tourism. The city already is a destination for many cruise ship passengers. The government hopes that more tourists will mean more chances for small business to prosper.

A number of public buildings are on the restoration list as is the Parque Cariari, and the Monumento Nacional Quiribrí
Lawmakers seek protection
for illegally hunted caiman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two legislators, Mario Nuñez and Luis A. Barrantes, said Tuesday that the environmental ministry is not doing enough to prevent the illegal hunting of caiman in the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro.

The bulk of the hunting is by persons from nearby Nicaragua who are seeking the skins of the reptiles for sale, they said.

The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía would be in charge of patrolling this protected area.

The Refugio Caño Negro was designated in 1984 and contains nearly 10,000 hectares (nearly 25,000 acres), much of which is mangroves and wetlands. The lawmakers pointed out in a press conference that the area is a major tourism site and that many of the tourists come to see the caiman, a relative of the crocodile.

The lawmakers said that the number of caiman has declined dramatically in the refuge and that frequently residents come upon caiman graveyards where the animals have been stripped of their skins.

Youngster gets the goods
on fireworks vendor, cops say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police say a 9-year-old set up a sting in which a local shop operator was detained for selling fireworks to a minor, the youngster himself.

The arrest took place in San Juan de San Ramón de Alajuela where the youngster sought money from parents so he could prove that the woman shopkeeper was selling fireworks to youngsters, said police. They said the parents called authorities who watched while the youngster purchased fireworks.

The woman was identified by the last names of Retana Vargas. Officials said that she lacked a local permit to sell fireworks. In order to do so, three permits were required: one from the local municipality, one from the Ministerio de Salud and one from the Departamento de Armas y Explosivos of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, according to Willian Hidalgo, director general of Armamento.

Eventually police confiscated 558 units of fireworks, including rockets and the case was turned over to the local prosecutor, they said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 231


Maybe it was just a sunset, but there was a definite glow around shoppers Tuesday on the downtown pedestrian mall. We prefer to attribute it to the approaching Christmas season.
downtonw glow on shoppers
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Police beefing up presence in beach towns for high season
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Busy season is starting for Costa Rica's tourism industry. As operators of beach hotels finish painting and remodeling, and managers at restaurants and stores stock up on supplies, police are getting ready for what many describe as high-crime season.
“I imagine there's an increase in crime because there's an increase in tourism and people, so there's an increase in everything really,” said Capt. Juan Dalmer Badilla Rojas of the Fuerza Pública in Manuel Antonio. Most police department officials admit that crime is higher during busy season, and all major tourist sectors are in the process of strengthening their police numbers for the coming months.

Today police and officials from Jacó and the rest of the Cantón de Garabito will hold a meeting to discuss security issues and strengthening of forces for the high season, said  Chief Noberto Matarrieta Rodríguez of the Fuerza Pública in Jacó. Matarrieta said more forces will be fielded in the coming weeks.

Along with strengthening forces, other police agencies will send out bulletins with contact information and security advice in Spanish and English. Although officials admit most police agents don't speak English, they say there are a number of things tourists can do to avoid trouble. As José Luis Rodriguez, a Fuerza Pública officer, said, “We prefer to prevent crime before it happens as oppose to deal with it afterwards.”

Rodríguez advised tourists never to leave objects in sight whether it is an i-Pod inside of a car or a camera held in the hand. He said the biggest problem with crime and tourism in the Jacó area is thieves taking valuables from parked cars. “For some reason many tourists leave their car doors open, perhaps it is because they are very trusting,” said Rodríguez. His advice to tourists is to lock their cars and, if they see something suspicious, to tell police before the situation becomes a problem.

Badilla in Manuel Antonio said he would remind tourists not to walk alone or to park their cars in an empty area and to remember Fuerza Pública officers always wear dark uniforms and not camouflage like in some countries.
María Aguilar Segura, chief of police operations in Cóbano and the surrounding beach towns, reminded tourists to keep an eye on belongings like wallets and purses at all times, to be extra careful in crowded areas, to always lock cars and hotel rooms and not to be too trusting of anyone.

Many locals of beach towns say with high-season comes a wave of criminality, robbery and break-ins. Joelle Delaney a 20-year resident of Montezuma and owner of the bookstore Libería Topsy, said during high season there is an increase of people coming to live from other parts of Costa Rica like San José. Some of these seasonal residents stroll the streets and beaches acting like locals and giving directions to tourists while pickpocketing them.

Yamileth Murillo Mata a worker from Sano Banano hotel in Montezuma agreed with this and said during high season people come from the city to work, and with this, there is an influx in crime. Murillo said a tourist was pickpocketed
on a bus Friday, but had to call the police in Puntarenas because the two police officers in Montezuma don't speak English. “People feel very frustrated and want to talk to someone” she said. Although this might not be such a problem elsewhere, beach towns like Montezuma are full of tourists and foreigners. In fact upon arrival, some visitors wonder if there are any locals at all.

The Fuerza Publica office in Montezuma closed about six months ago, according to Officer Aguilar in Cóbano. The office is now an abandoned cabin on the beach with broken windows. Officer Aguilar acknowledged that most in the police force do not speak English.

She said the agency is open to the idea and would like to hold classes for officers in the afternoon. Officials in San José have not responded to their request she said.

The police force in Montezuma is operated from Cóbano, 10 kilometers or about 6 miles away. The same forces also patrol the beach towns of Tambor, Manzanillo, and Santa Teresa.

Along with practicing caution and reading security information from police, another piece of advice for tourists, may be to brush up on Spanish. If at least a basic vocabulary is known in case of an emergency, one may be able to avoid disaster.

Reborn Montezuma chamber focuses on cleaning up town
By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Montezuma's recently re-formed Chamber of Commerce is striving to make the town into a model example this high season.

Round-the-clock security, trash cans throughout town and water treatment are all top priorities for the small beachside town, which is now working towards Blue Flag certification, an indication of environmentally sound procedures.

Seven business owners came together to reform the dissolved chamber of commerce in May. Since then they have had regular meetings to discuss the problems facing the town and how it is best to solve them.

By the beginning of the coming year, a team of security guards is expected to be in place to complement the uncertain police presence in the town. Chamber members intend to renovate the town's dilapidated and abandoned police station.

Trash cans separated into spaces for recyclable and non-recyclable materials soon will be a feature of Montezuma, a measure that it is hoped will keep the town cleaner.

Large companies such as Coca Cola and the Cerverceria Costa Rica, whose products are consumed in high quantities in the town, are being asked to co-operate in removing the recyclable materials after use, said chamber members.

The ambitious projects have already encountered some problems.

Moraya Iacono, a member of the chamber and owner of Ylang Ylang Beach Resort, said, 'We are still working out the details of this scheme. As security guards wouldn't be
part of the police, there may be some problems with their mandate to enforce law on the streets. We don't want them
to have guns, so we are looking into other possibilities.'

In the future, the chamber is hoping to secure funding from the University of Costa Rica in order to pay for a water treatment plant for the town.

Many of the town's businesses have septic tanks, but questions have been raised about where tanker trucks empty the sewage after they have removed it from the tanks.

Joelle Delaney, owner of Librería Topsy, said: "If the trucks are meant to go to somewhere like Puntarenas and back to dump the sewage in a specific site, people start to wonder when they return within an hour. Some people think they just dump it in the mountains."

The chamber is made up of people involved with tourist-orientated businesses, making it worth their while to make the town safer and more attractive for their clients. The town is near the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Some businesses, including Librería Topsy, have been collecting money for the local school for years, but the school, which has problems providing the basic materials needed for the childrens' education, is not one of the chamber's top priorities.

"The school is funded by the government, but the government will not give money for things like security and cleaning the streets," Iacono said.

Fundraising events are being planned for the beginnning of next month, and each business is asked to donate a small amount of money – up to 10,000 colons – each month to support the chamber's projects.

However, not all are happy to pay for the improvements.
"Owners of smaller businesses sometimes don't want to contribute their share," said Iacono, who owns the largest tourist business in town. "If all 60 or so businesses that operate in Montezuma helped, we could easily make a change."

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 231

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coffee disease
Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería photo
Ojo de gallo attacks leaves with distinctive circles and produces spores there and on coffee beans
Coffee crop under attack by stronger than usual fungus
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation's coffee crop is under heavy attack by a fungus, which appears to be worse this year because of heavy rains that favor the disease. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería said that about half of the coffee plantations above 1,400 meters (about 4,600 feet) have indications of this plant disease and said the situation was an epidemic.

But all is not lost, said the ministry. Applications of the appropriate copper-based fungicide can stop the spread of the disease, the ministry said. Suggested were products called validamicina and triasoles.

The disease is prevalent in the zone of Los Santos, and the
eastern part of the Central Valley: Alajuela, Heredia centro, Santo Domingo de Heredia, Santo Barbara de Heredia, and in San Pedro de Poás, Valverde Vega, Naranjo, San Ramón, among others, said the ministry.

The fungus attacks the leaves of the coffee plant and can defoliate the bush completely. Also attacked are the beans themselves, making them unmarketable.

The disease is called ojo de gallo because of the round lesion it makes on a coffee bean or leaf.

Application of fungicide is recommended at the start and end of the rainy season, that is in November and December and in April and May, said the ministry.

Chávez says Colombian rebels promise proof that hostages live by year's end
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says Colombian leftist rebels have promised to provide proof by the end of the year that high-profile hostages in their custody, such as politician Ingrid Betancourt, are alive.

Chávez made the comment Tuesday in Paris, where he and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy discussed Ms. Betancourt. Chávez admitted earlier this week he has no material proof that Ms. Betancourt, a senator, is alive, but was assured so by a leader of the the rebel group that kidnapped her in February 2002. That is the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.
Sarkozy has made freeing the French-Colombian Ms. Betancourt one of his foreign policy priorities and Chávez hopes to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the rebels.
Ms. Betancourt was running for the Colombian presidency when she and her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, were abducted and taken into the jungle. Ms. Betancourt has not been heard from since 2003. There is no word on the fate of Ms. Rojas.

The rebels are demanding the release of colleagues held in government prisons in return for freeing 45 hostages, including Ms. Betancourt and three Americans.
Monday the Colombian government said it was giving Chávez until the end of the year to broker a prisoner swap.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 231

Final rally event is this weekend in Guanacaste, and prize is the championship
By Anne Calrk
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The final meeting of the Campeonato Naciónal de Rally Mapache will take place this weekend at La Ponderosa in Guanacaste.  Saturday, racers will complete 10 legs.  Sunday, the final day, will bring eight more legs to determine the winner. 

The scoring is complex, based both on finishing times and points rankings.  Saturday and Sunday's winners are not
necessarily the winners of the entire rally but points will be awarded and then tallied. The route Saturday and Sunday will be gravel.

Thursday, the cars will be inspected by mechanics at Super Service la Sabana.  There will be an exhibition open to the public. 

The current leader is Gonzalo “Chalo” Quiros with Sirhan Wabe only three points behind.  Gerardo and Rebeca Moreno, a brother-sister team, are also strong contenders.

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