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These stories were published Monday, Nov. 24, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 232
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Several factors seem to be ganging up on them
Foreigners get the sense that they are picked on
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreigners here can be forgiven if they think Costa Rica is picking on them. The conjunction of a number of factors has created — from the point of view of foreign English-speakers here — an impression that they are not wanted.

But the factors hardly seem to be a coordinated effort on the part of the nation. Instead, problems with finances, immigration and travel have their roots in the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and an effort by the current administration to get its house in order.

In each of the troubling developments, Foreigners living here are not the major target of changes. For example, Costa Rica’s several proposed laws on the status of foreigners are concerned more with Colombians and Nicaraguans than with North Americans.


Analysis of the news


However, Costa Rica has been slow to placate foreigners who feel they are being singled out. And for some reason, President Abel Pacheco seems to take pleasure in telling creditors of the failed Villalobos investment operation that they are fools.

Pacheco is a major target of some creditors who incorrectly believe that he was behind the investigatory raids that ended up causing the high-interest operation to shut down. Pacheco has been in office only a few months, and the raids were some two years in the planning. In addition, Costa Rica only seized $7 million of Villalobos assets, a pittance compared to the $1 billion scope of the business. So claims that Pacheco is behind a conspiracy to steal creditors’ money lack logic.

Pacheco first called the creditors fools in an interview with Wall Street Journal reporter José de Cordoba. The New York newspaper published that story Dec. 13, and Pacheco was quoted saying: "The Bible says the number of fools is infinite."

Even then, the statement was less than good politics. But creditors are upset that the president keeps repeating the phrase, particularly when the record shows he had some contact with at least another high-interest borrowing operation in the search for campaign funds. The last time he used the word fools was a week ago in an interview with a Canadian television station.

But even the minority of foreign residents who 

did not put their money with the Brothers Villalobos have to be upset by some of these situations:

• Police officials seem to be targeting unfairly single adult North American males  in the battle against underage sexual exploitation when most of the incidents involve Costa Ricans.

• Tighter rules, spawned by international accords after Sept. 11, 2001, make banking more difficult.

• A new immigration proposal contains monthly financial requirements that would put rentista and pensionado status out of the reach of most North American foreigners

• A requirement that U.S. and Canadian citizens  soon must show a passport instead of other identifying documents ends years of easy entry and may hurt tourism.

• A immigration probe of older residency approvals has put perhaps more than a thousand foreigners here in limbo because their lawyer did not follow the law.

• New Ministerio de Hacienda requirements for owners of corporations create and will create work and perhaps expense for those foreigners who have their home or car in such legal structures.

• The Registro Nacional has thrown out several hundred thousand older filings because they contained errors, thereby jeopardizing the land and vehicle titles of foreigners who are among the most likely to have been the victims of slipshod lawyers and notaries.

• A proposed income tax plan could end up double-taxing the foreign incomes of expats here.

• Some residents, principally U.S. citizens, fear that Costa Rica is too anxious to share financial information with the U.S. tax collectors.

Costa Rican officials have good reasons for all these latest burdens and expected burdens. The primary thrust certainly is not against foreigners living here. Taxing foreign incomes, for example, is mainly to generate income from the foreign investments of Costa Ricans.

However, Foreigners here have faced all of the above problems and potential problems in rapid succession, and fears have been fanned with incomplete or overstated information generated in conversations an in Internet groups. From their point of view, they are under siege.

 
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Anti-trade pact march will tie up traffic today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Union groups, telecommunication workers, public employees and leftist university students will be marching today to protest Costa Rica’s possible agreement to a Central American free trade treaty.
Travelers can expect tie-ups throughout the metropolitan area.,


Miami trade results BELOW!


Motives range from narrow concerns over the entry of certain U.S. agricultural products to a broad conception of the treaty as a vehicle for furthering U.S. imperialism.

Meanwhile, President Abel Pacheco said again Sunday in his weekly television talk that the treaty was vital to Costa Rica’s interests because it gave the country access to the U.S. market. He is opposed to the march.

The protest is supposed to kick off about 9 a.m. in front of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad 

building in Sabana Norte. Other groups will join themarch as the telecommunication workers head up Paseo Colón to the Asamblea Nacional on Avenida Central.. Student groups will be coming from the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro, as is the custom. 

Eventually many of the marchers will head to Zapote and to Casa Presidencial.

Ostensibly, the marchers are demanding openness in free trade negotiations. The ninth and likely final round of talks are in the United states in December. Talks have been secret. However, the whole agreement will be up for study and discussion in the legislature when and if the executive branch approves it.

Telecommunication workers fear that the government will permit international firms to undercut the ICE monopoly. The United States is insisting on some kind of gesture to open the Costa Rican communications or services markets.  This would include the telephone and Internet systems, but also the national insurance monopoly and some quasi-monopolies of commercial enterprises.


 
 
U.S. citizen drowns
at Playa Potrero

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen died Friday, the presumed victim of a swimming accident, according to the Fuerza Pública.

The man was identified by the Fuerza Pública as Thomas Walker, about 61 years of age. Walker vanished at Playa Potrero in the morning, and his body was found along the shore about 6 p.m.  The beach is north of Brasilito in northern Guanacaste on the Pacific coast.

High tension climb
newest area fad

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Climbing high tension towers to attract attention seems to be the latest fad.

A woman did that last week in Pavas because child welfare officials had taken some of her children. She later was talked down by officials and hospitalized.

Saturday about 7 p.m. a man, 31, with the last names of López Bermúdez climbed a tower also in Pavas not far from the U.S. Embassy.

Eventually he, too. came down complaining of problems with his mother-in-law. He also went to a hospital for evaluation.

Also in Cartago Sunday another man did the same thing with similar results.

Extradition sought
of Ukrainian here

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Poland has asked Costa Rica to extradite a Ukrainian citizen who Polish authorities say killed Jews while serving as a Nazi officer during World War II. 

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar said Friday that the Polish Embassy in San José requested Bodhan Koziy's extradition. Koziy has lived in Costa Rica for the past two decades. 

Koziy is accused of killing a 4-year-old Jewish girl and of participating in the murder of an entire family in 1943. Reports say a court order in 2001 to expel Koziy was frustrated because no country would take him. Costa Rican authorities say Koziy left Europe after the war ended and went to the United States, where he obtained residency in the 1950s. In the early 1980s, Koziy lost his U.S. citizenship after authorities accused him of lying about his identity. He denies the allegation. 

Costa Rican authorities say they know where Koziy is living but that extradition could take months. 
 

Toledo give apology
for government excesses

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — President Alejandro Toledo has apologized for two decades of political violence in the poor Andean country and announced plans to help many of its victims.

In a nationwide broadcast Friday, Toledo asked Peruvians to forgive their government for the death or disappearance of tens of thousands of people during Communist insurgencies over the past two decades. He also apologized for the suffering of many others who were victims of violence, terror and human rights abuses. 

In August of this year, the government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that almost 70,000 people were killed or abducted during the guerrilla wars. That number is double earlier estimates.

The commission blamed more than half the deaths on the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group. It also said Peru's military was responsible for a third of the deaths, and committed widespread human rights abuses.

Toledo acknowledged Friday that the Peruvian military committed "painful excesses."

He also announced an $800 million development plan aimed at helping areas most affected by the violence. The Peruvian president said projects to improve education and infrastructure will target the country's most remote and impoverished areas, regions that were breeding grounds and strongholds of the guerrillas.

Toledo said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings will be incorporated in future school textbooks.

Shining Path's numbers have steadily declined since the arrest of its founder, Abimael Guzman, in 1992. Once estimated at 10,000-strong in the early 1990's, the group is believed to now number in the hundreds.

U.S. and Uruguay
seek investment pact

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — The United States and Uruguay will begin negotiation of an investment treaty in early 2004, according to an announcement issued jointly by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Uruguayan Foreign Minister Didier Opertti.

The two officials made the announcement Friday after the conclusion of the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting there. The decision to pursue such a treaty with Uruguay "reflects the [Bush] Administration's determination to move forward to strengthen trade and investment ties with willing partners," said a press release, adding: "A bilateral investment treaty will send a strong signal to investors that Uruguay is moving past its recent financial crisis and is ready for business."

Ecuadorian leader
denies he’s tainted 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — The president has denied receiving $30,000 in campaign finances for last year's election from a suspected drug trafficker.

President Lucio Gutierrez said Friday, that he would step down if investigators prove his party took money from Cesar Fernandez, a former provincial governor who is now in a Quito jail on drug trafficking charges.

The president has said his campaign funding was clean and that investigators would not be able to prove the accusations.

Meanwhile, President Gutierrez's brother-in-law, Napoleon Villa, has quit as head of the governing Patriotic Society Party. The president has also accepted the resignation of his tourism minister Hernan Plaza, who has admitted that he once rode in the accused drug lord's airplane.

U.S. suspects onions
as hepatitis-A source

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is stopping shipments of green onions from three Mexican companies at the border, as part of its investigation into an outbreak of hepatitis-A in several U.S. states. 

Health officials are examining the shipments for traces of the disease which has sickened people in the U.S. states of Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and most recently, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania outbreak has been the most severe, infecting about 575 people and causing three deaths. 

Previous shipments from the three Mexican suppliers have been linked to outbreaks of the liver disease in Tennessee and Georgia. 

Food and Drug Administration officials said Thursday that green onions are suspected of being the source of the hepatitis-A outbreak, but they do not yet have conclusive proof.

México’s U.N. envoy
resigns under fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N. Y. — Mexico's ambassador to the United Nations, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, has told the U.N. Security Council he is resigning his post, telling reporters it is impossible to remain following the uproar over recent comments on U.S.-Mexico relations. 

Aguilar Zinser had upset his government by telling university students in Mexico City recently that the United States viewed Mexico as its backyard and not its equal. The remarks came on the eve of sensitive U.S.-Mexico talks in Washington. 

The ambassador's comments immediately drew a rebuttal from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who described them as "outrageous." Secretary Powell also said Mexico is a partner, neighbor and great friend to the United States. 

Aguilar Zinser announced his resignation three days after Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez told reporters the ambassador would be stepping down on Jan. 1.

It was not clear if the U.N. envoy was leaving voluntarily or being forced out by the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox.

False gun permits
result in arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the second time in a week, police officials have detained individuals on suspicious that they were selling phony gun permits.

Two men with the last names of Jarquín and Villalobos were detained by the Policía Municipal, and officials said they were trying to sell at least six false gun permits for 10,000 colons each, some $24.

Gun permits are under the jurisdiction of the Departamento de Armas y Explosivos of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Officials said the permits actually were a scam because additional documentation is necessary for an individual to get a real permit.

Earlier last week police arrested a man in Puntarenas who is suspected of trying to sell similar permits for 30,000 colons.

The permit process has become more complex lately because officials now require an applicant for a gun permit to undergo an evaluation by a psychologist.

Policeman wounded
in Bataan incident

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 16-year-old pulled a gun on people in front of a bar in Bataan early Sunday and then shot a policeman in the chest when he arrived to disarm the teen.

Wounded with a .38-caliber bullet was Elberth Céspedes Marín, 57.  He went to Hospital Tony Facio in Limón.

Some five hours later, about 6:30 a.m., Fuerza Pública officers and agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization raided a home where they arrested a youth with the last name of Sánchez. They said he was the person who fired the gun.

Police arrested other persons at the same location for unrelated charges.
 
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Tax collection is the goal
U.S. signs information-sharing pact with Aruba
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and Aruba will share tax information with each other in an effort to ensure that, in U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow's words, "no safe haven exists anywhere in the world for the funds associated with illicit activities, including terrorism, money laundering, and tax evasion."

Snow and Nelson Oduber, prime minister of Aruba, signed the agreement Friday in Washington. Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The United States recently concluded similar landmark tax-information exchange agreements with eight other offshore financial centers: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, and the Netherlands Antilles. 

Snow said the United States and Aruba have 

developed a close and cooperative relationship on law enforcement matters. "We have an obligation to enforce our tax laws, because failing to do so undermines the confidence of honest taxpayers in the fairness of the U.S. tax system," said Snow.  "Access to needed information is vital to our efforts to ensure full and fair enforcement of our civil and criminal laws.

The United states will continue to work vigorously to extend the network of exchange of information agreements to cover additional financial centers throughout the world and to improve existing information exchange relationships, Snow said.

In January, the United States entered into an agreement with Switzerland that is intended to facilitate more effective tax information exchange between the two countries. At the same time, the two governments agreed that more must be done to bring the U.S.-Swiss tax information exchange relationship up to international standards.


 
 
Trade ministers fall back on U.S.-Brazil compromise
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Trade ministers from 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere ended their meetings here late Thursday by agreeing to a compromise framework for creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the end of next year. The meeting ended after a day of protests by anti-globalization activists which police say led to more than 50 arrests.

Trade ministers ended their talks one day early by adopting a compromise proposal designed by the meeting’s two co-chairmen, Brazil and the United States. The agreement sets basic rights and obligations for each country to follow but allows countries to opt out of parts of the agreement they do not support.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says the agreement will move the process of creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas forward, which he says remains a difficult task.

"This remains a tremendous challenge, to try and create free trade all throughout the hemisphere — half the world. Thirty-four democratic countries from small countries in the Caribbean to large countries like Brazil and the United States. Developed countries, developing countries, I do not underestimate the challenge of this task," he said.

The compromise agreed to is the result of negotiations between the United States and Brazil who have serious trade differences. At the World Trade Organization talks that failed to reach agreement recently in Mexico, Brazil led a coalition of more than 20 countries who objected to agricultural subsidies in the United States and Europe. U.S. officials want to see Brazil reform its intellectual property laws and other laws related to investor protection.

Speaking through a translator at the conclusion of the Miami meeting Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso 

Amorim said without compromise, there will be no Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"I need to make it clear that everyone shares this political vision. This is a process in which we want to move forward. We would like to have everything here on paper, but we are not going to be able to do that," he said. "So, what we have done is something that will allow us to make progress towards a Free Trade Area of the Americas."

Business groups and Mexico's economy secretary, Fernando Canales, expressed disappointment at the compromise, saying it amounts to a watered-down agreement which does not go far enough to allow free trade to flourish.

Earlier in the day, labor unions held a rally attended by thousands to protest the creation of the FTAA, which they say will encourage the transfer of jobs out of the United States to countries where workers earn low wages and have no rights. John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, said free trade agreements have had a negative impact on American workers.

"Trade is not working for working families. We have the experience of ten years of NAFTA, (The North American Free Trade Agreement) where the trade deficit has gone from $9 billion to $87 billion dollars over the past 10  years," he said. :That has created a tremendous loss of jobs in the United States alone, and it is about time that our trade policies protected the core labor standards of workers and addressed environmental and human rights concerns."

Thousands of mostly young anti-globalization activists also did their best to disrupt the Miami trade meeting, as demonstrators clashed with police in Miami's downtown streets. About 2,000 heavily armed police in riot gear formed a series of unbreakable lines, creating a security cordon that kept the protesters far away from the trade negotiators.


 
Ancient pilgrimage route experiences a revival
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — Since the Middle Ages, Christian pilgrims have been flocking to this Spanish city, built, it is said, on the remains of the Apostle James. But the past 20 years have witnessed an unprecedented surge in pilgrimage to Santiago. 

Tired and muddy pilgrims rest heavy backpacks alongside the pews of Santiago de Compostela's soaring cathedral. They greet each other in restaurants, and pack Santiago's hotels. For centuries, these spiritual travelers, who arrive on foot, have been an unquestioned fixture of this medieval city. But never have there been so many, and they never came from so far away.

Over the past two decades, the recorded number of pilgrims trekking to Santiago de Compostela has soared from just 120 in 1982, to nearly 69,000 this year. An expert on the pilgrimage, Olivier Cebe, says the surge has been astonishing, particularly since most of the pilgrims are Europeans, and church attendance in Europe is plummeting.

Cebe is a member of the International Committee of Experts on the Road to St. James — the pilgrimage route from France that people started using in the Middle Ages. He says several reasons explain the growth in the number of pilgrims going to Santiago, who not only include Christians, but also Buddhists, Jews and even some atheists.

For one thing, Cebe says, the pilgrimage is easier, thanks to recent efforts to upgrade the French road to Santiago, and to establish new ones from other parts of Europe. Europeans are also increasingly interested in hiking, and in their cultural heritage.

But the interest in Santiago stretches well beyond Europe. And experts say it is evidence that more and more people are seeking their spiritual identity.

Today, pilgrims come from countries as diverse as Sweden, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the United States. 

American Suzanne Da Rosa, 52, a poet from California, says she was drawn to the pilgrimage after seeing an art exhibit about it. She considers herself a non-practicing Catholic.

"I grew up in the '50s and '60s, when religion was always something you had to fear," she said. "Everything you do is a sin, and you can't get to God if you're a sinner. All my life I've been a sinner."

Mrs. Da Rosa says she did not intend to make a religious journey. But she ended up walking 800 kms. to Santiago with her eldest daughter. She says the pilgrimage became a spiritual experience and a sheer test of endurance.

She is not alone. Up to 1,000 visitors arrive daily at Santiago's pilgrimage center during the peak months of July and August. They come here to receive their compostela from the Roman Catholic 


City of Santiago de Compostela photo
Soaring cathedal is the goal of most pilgrims

Church, a certificate attesting that they have walked at least 100 kilometers along the Road to Saint James. Even now, during a season of chilly rains, the center is full of travelers.

They include elderly walkers like 62-year-old Pamela Mathews from the Canary Islands, who admits that her 250-km. trek was difficult.

"We feel the walk," said Mrs. Mathews. "The exhaustion. The pain in the back carrying a heavy load. And the long steep, road that is hard on the knees. But it's a good feeling. You can't imagine what a good feeling it is to know you've come to the Compostela, that you've done the whole trip, and that now you're going to get the certificate."

Besides being a practicing Catholic, Mrs. Mathews had a special reason for making the journey. She says her brother is dying. She knows her pilgrimage won't make him better, but she hopes it will help ease his suffering.

Others, like Patrick Dubois, 46, insist they did not make the pilgrimage for religious reasons. Dubois, who is from Bayonne, France, says the Road to St. James is simply a good hiking path. He says it helped him learn more about Spanish culture.

The man who oversees Santiago's pilgrimage office, Canon Jaime Garcia Rodriguez, doubts Dubois' explanation.

Garcia says pilgrims may not tell strangers the truth, but the truth is written on the church's registers. He says more than nine out of ten pilgrims who receive their certificates cite religious motives for their journey.

Indeed, the growing number of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela is fueling the Catholic Church's ongoing effort to get some sort of religious reference into the new European constitution now being drafted. Next April, church leaders will host a conference in Santiago, on Europe's spiritual roots. The timing coincides with the entry of 10 new countries into the European Union and with a special Holy Year of St. James in the Catholic Church. 


 
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