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These stories were published Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 239
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Room
with 
a view

A view from the 11th floor of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros gives a view not many people see.

In the foreground is the Escuela Metalica, which locals report was built by the same man who constructed that tower in Paris: Gustavo Eifel.

The school has that name because its walls are metal. The building still is used today as a school. 

A little further to the southwest is the bandstand in Parque Morazan that was refurbished last year to its last-century glitter. A tourist might be surprised to find murals in the ceiling of the bandstand.
 

Deputies begin considering interim tax plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asemblea Nacional began considering a short-term tax plan Monday, and Rolando Laclé called for them to approve the measure in the shortest time possible, calling this "the moment of truth."

Laclé, president of the national assembly, said that unless the interim fiscal plan is approved, the country would have to take drastic measures, including cutting road programs, holding the line on salaries and jacking up import duties.

Monday was the first time the full panel of deputies looked at the plan. A committee composed of representatives of the major political parties has studied the plan submitted by the executive branch and made recommendations to the assembly.

The only action taken Monday was for deputies to agree to meet in special session Wednesday at 3 p.m. to continue considering the plan.

The major parties seem to be in agreement on the broad outline of the plan. The Movimiento Libertario, which is in the minority, strongly opposed new taxes on casinos and other gambling businesses. But the Partido Liberación Nacional and the special tax committee suggested just that.

The plan, as presented to the full assembly, calls for a graduated tax on casino tables and a 100,000-colon ($266) monthly tax on each 

slot machine. The plan still contains a graduated tax on terminals at Internet betting facilities, and a boost in tax from $125,000 a year to $300,000 a year for banks that maintain an offshore presence.

The plan also would give tax officials the authority to close businesses that do not issue facturas or receipts to customers and set up other methods to prevent tax evasion and contraband.

So-called luxury cars would be taxed, but deputies argued Monday whether the tax surcharge should be levied on vehicles that cost more than 7 million colons (about $18,600) or 10 million colons ($26,600). Liberación deputies pressed for the higher limit.

The plan also calls for a sliding scale of from $50 to $100 on corporations and a sliding surcharge of from 1 percent to 6 percent on persons who make more than 750,000 colons a month ($2,000) and those with pensions over 1.5 million ($4,000).

The plan also calls for higher taxes on alcohol and cigarettes and a doubling of filing fees at the Registro Nacional.

For its part, the government promises to cut spending and waste while it simplifies the taxation system. President Abel Pacheco has warned that the country’s finances are in a critical state, a position supported by Laclé Monday, who said the country was running at a huge deficit.

Agents detain Savings Unlimited manager
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The manager of Saving Unlimited ended up in jail over the weekend as officials try to sort out the mess left when the firm’s management left the country.

The detained man is Michael Gonzalez of Sabana Sur. He is the man most investors dealt with, but the presumed owner of the firm is Louis Milanes, who left the country a week ago. The firm held at least $160 million in investments, primarily from North Americans.

Gonzalez received pre-trial detention, although he might be able to obtain bail because he has not shown himself to be a flight risk. Gonzales used to manage the office of Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, who also ran a high-interest investment operation. 
Investors, some 2,600 strong at Savings Unlimited, hardly ever saw Milanes at the 

Paseo Colón office. It was Gonzalez to whom most gave their money.

The brother of Villalobos also is in pre-trial detention for six months. He is Oswaldo Villalobos. He underwent arrest last week. Enrique is in flight because a judge has issued a order of capture, thereby triggering and international search.

Both firms paid investors up to 3 percent per month. Savings Unlimited sometimes paid up to 4 percent. Villalobos never said how he earned the money with which he paid his investors. Milanes said he invested in casinos, but those left in charge of his three casinos when he fled say that they were not associated with Savings unlimited.

The two firms said they were not connected in any way but investigators are beginning to turn up evidence that at least some money was passed back and forth.

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Pacheco's son receives death threats in California
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fabián Pacheco Rodríguez, the son of Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco, has received death threats from loggers who are enraged by limits placed on lumbering in the Limón area, according to an environmental group.

In a press release issued by Oil Watch, an environmental group located in Costa Rica, the president’s son sent the organization a letter that described a showdown he had with a supposed lumber-advocate a few days ago in Willits, Calif.

According to Pacheco’s account of the incident, he and an agriculturist friend, Eladio Chinchilla, were confronted by an armed man. The assailant ordered Pacheco to drop the obstacles that have been placed upon deforestation in the Limón area of Costa Rica or he would be waiting in Costa Rica

to kill him. There was no explanation as to why 
both Pacheco and the lumbering advocate were both in California.

In the letter Pacheco said that he believed the ultimatum was motivated by a plan that he axed to extract wood from Pocora Sure, an area in Limón. Pacheco, a forest technician, said the plan contained numerous irregularities.

The president’s son concluded his letter with a stern message to his aggressors: "The responsibility is on the loggers of the Limón area that no harm comes to my friend, Eladio Chinchilla, and I."

According to Oil Watch Costa Rica, these threats are nothing new. The facilitator of the organization, Mauricio Alvarez, said the ecological movement has encountered a long history of conflict in this country. However, President Pacheco has taken a strong stand against illegal logging.


Photo by Pat Nethercote
Christmas
combination

How can  you go wrong with Santa Claus, a little kid and the spectacular beauty of Costa Rica?

The scene is near Turrialba with Santa, identified only as Guillermo, and year-old son José. The scene is on the balcony of Casa Turire, a resort near where reader Pat Nethercote lives. Santa works in a nearby store.

 

Caribbean flood effort boosted by Pacheco decree
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco ordered government institutions to provide money and effort to support the rebuilding of the Caribbean slope that suffered severe flooding for the second weekend in a row.

Pacheco made a trip to Siquirres, Matina and Batán to see first-hand the damage that had evicted more than 6,000 persons from their homes.

In his emergency decree, Pacheco said he was making new demands on government agencies to make sure aid would be forthcoming. In the past, government agencies paid lip service to presidential disaster decrees but never actually provided much help or money, said a release from Casa Presidencial.

Near Limón, despite the damage life was returning to normal, But there was still danger. A U.S. citizen and a Swiss citizen are among those reported missing after a small boat overturned.  The 

accident happened about 1:30 p.m. Monday in Bocana de Matina in one of the canals there, according to  the Cruz Roja.

Four persons were in the craft, a panga, when it overturned, and navy boats managed to rescue two. The missing were not further identified except for their nationalities.

Meanwhile, the news from the south was not good. The Cruz Roja reported five persons still missing there, not counting two known dead. 

The hard hit areas on the south part of the Caribbean coast are in the Canton of Talamanca, specifically Bribrí, Sixaola and Cahuita. Rescue workers still had not reached Alta Talamaca to determine conditions there, Cruz Roja said.

Officials were seeking aircraft to make overflights of the area to spot places where aid might be needed. On the ground they were using four-wheel drive vehicles and some special rescue machinery.


 
Vancouver mayor to adopt radical drug program
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VANCOUVER, Canada — The seaport city here on the west coast of the country has one of the most serious drug problems in North America.

In 1997, public health officials declared a state of emergency in the area because of its high number of HIV and tuberculosis cases. 

In an effort to reduce the risk of infection and move drugs off the streets, the city is developing what it calls a "four pillars approach," involving treatment, prevention, harm reduction, and enforcement. The pillar drawing the most attention is harm reduction, which includes providing specific sites where addicts can inject drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin, under medical supervision. 

Mayor-elect Larry Campbell, a former high-profile coroner and inspiration for a popular Canadian TV series, made the four pillars approach a central part of his recent election campaign. 

Campbell says the injection sites will be established in early 2003, but not before the other three pillars are developed, involving detoxification and treatment. "We're going forward with it as quickly as we can. And working in a cooperative manner. I want it as quickly as possible, but I don't want it unless we have treatment of detox and treatment beds," he said. "I don't want it unless that's in place because it's not going to do us any good. I don't want it until we have all we know what we're doing with enforcement or prevention. I mean all of these 

pillars have to work together."

Among those opposed to the "safe injection sites" is the Vancouver Board of Trade. Dave Park, chief economist, says too much attention has been paid to the issue. The business group favors other aspects of the new drug strategy, but Park feels providing a place for addicts to "shoot up" is misguided. 

"We are certainly opposed to the adoption of that particular part of the strategy. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant, " he said. "The amount of the numbers of heroin addicts that would use it [is] relatively small compared with the total population, as we understand it. The drug of choice is now cocaine and we understand it is probably moving to crystal meth [methamphetamine]."

Less than a week after Campbell's election as mayor, the Board of Trade called on John Walters, the White House director of drug policy, to outline the Bush administration's opposition to such things as safe injection sites.

The city is near the U.S. northern border and is less than a three-hour drive from Seattle. The White House drug policy chief would not comment when asked about the possibility of U.S. drug users moving north to take advantage of the sites. 

However, he says that instead of treating the problems associated with drug use, it is better to directly fight the addiction. Still, Walters concedes, the supervised sites could save some lives.

U.N. agency to inject $26m into biodiversity

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NAIROBI, Kenya— The United Nations Environment Program has announced a new $26 million project to study the underground biodiversity of seven tropical countries in search of new species of tiny organisms including bacteria, fungi, insects, mites and worms.

According to the program, the project is backed by $9 million funding from the World Bank Group's Global Environment Facility and support from other donors such as the Rockefeller Foundation.

Scientists believe that unraveling the secrets on how various species of soil-dwelling life operate may be the key to restoring the fertility of damaged and degraded lands while helping to raise crop yields in the tropics. It is also hoped this "genetic treasure trove" will yield new drugs, antibiotics and industrial products.

"Harvesting the secrets of this understudied realm promises huge benefits and improved knowledge towards the goal of delivering sustainable development, towards eradicating poverty," said Klaus Toepfer, the program’s executive director. "This is one of the more unusual, curious but absolutely vital projects [the program] has undertaken."

As one example of the importance of the planned research, the program reports that earthworms, termites and other soil-burrowing organisms influence the amount of rainwater soils can absorb, and that soils depleted of such organisms are more drought-prone and at risk from catastrophic run-off.

A team from the French Institute de Recherche pour le Development, working with officials in India, found that after the reintroduction of earthworms, harvests at some plantations are up as much as 282 percent and profits by as much $5,500 per hectare per year.

The program’s project will initially collect and catalogue the below-ground biodiversity here, as well as in Brazil, Mexico, Cote d'Ivoire, Uganda, Indonesia and India. The sites in the countries chosen are thought to be among those with the highest below ground biodiversity. Each country also has a well-developed scientific capacity in the science of soil biology.

Canadians first to ratify
terrorism convention

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

OTTAWA, Canada — The government announced that the country has ratified the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, becoming the first country to do so. 

The announcement coincides with Monday's Washington D.C., preparatory meeting for the Third Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism to be held in San Salvador from Jan. 22 to 24, 2003.

“International cooperation is crucial to combat terrorism effectively," said Bill Graham, foreign affairs minister. "Canada is proud to be the first country to ratify this important [organization] Convention which will further coordinate hemispheric efforts aimed at eliminating threats of terrorism. We encourage other [organization] members to ratify the Convention.”

The organization’s Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary general, commended Canada’s move to sign and ratify the treaty, asserting that preventing terrorist activity now very much depends on the collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence and effective cooperation among the authorities of friendly governments.

Martin Cauchon, justice minister and attorney, said: “In the Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada committed to continue working with its allies to ensure the safety and security of Canadians.

“Today the government advances that commitment by ratifying this Convention, allowing more effective collaboration with our international partners in the Americas. The Convention complements the country's Anti-Terrorism Act, which represents a comprehensive legislative strategy against the threat of terrorism,” he said.

"Threats are international in scope, so we must ensure that our efforts to counter them are both domestic and multilateral," said Wayne Easter, solicitor general. "This Convention symbolizes the ongoing cooperation within the hemisphere to combat terrorism. We stand strong and united in this fight."

The Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism was adopted at the organization’s General Assembly in Barbados in June 2002. The Convention calls for the organization’s member states to adopt their own measures to combat terrorism, and for stronger cooperation in the hemisphere in areas such as law enforcement, legal assistance and border management. 

The Convention also calls for members to become parties to 10 UN counter terrorism instruments, all of which the country has signed and ratified, and which are central to the international legal framework. The Convention adds an important regional focus to existing international counter terrorism efforts, and will come into force once six organization member states have ratified it.

The committee is the preeminent forum for coordinating efforts to protect citizens of the hemisphere from terrorism threats.

The First Regular Session of the committee took place in Miami in 1999. The last session took place on Sept. 21, 2001, to discuss strengthening hemispheric cooperation on terrorism following the events of Sept. 11 the same year.

General strike to be 
extended in Caracas

By the A. M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Opponents of President Hugo Chavez say they are extending a nationwide general strike aimed at loosening his hold on power for a second day Tuesday. 

Business and labor leaders called the strike to press for an early referendum on Chavez's rule. Organizers described the work stoppage a success, but the government dismissed the shutdown, insisting the oil industry and other key sectors were open for business. 

The Chavez government countered the strike by organizing a huge street market here. Streets bustled with vendors and open restaurants in parts of the city, although some businesses remained closed. 

Airports stayed open with some delays while public transport operated at near-normal levels. 

Chavez's opponents called the strike action to press him to agree to the referendum. They accuse the leftist president of leading the country toward Cuban-style communism and economic ruin. 

The former paratrooper refuses to step down and says his adversaries must wait until August, when he is halfway through his term, to call a referendum.

Santa Ana murder 
under investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials of the Judicial Investigative Organization are looking into the murder of a 42-year old man from Salitral de Santa Ana.

The victim, with the last name Marin, died of a knife wound to his neck. Preliminary information indicates that Marin was involved in a scuffle with a 14-year-old boy, according to the police report.

Little League's popularity
grows . . . slowly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Capt. Curt Johnson is receiving a small but building response to his venture in Costa Rica Little League.

Eager parents are already signing their children up, said Johnson, and he is enlisting children from the ages of 5 to 9. If the league can find enough members in all age groups he said he would like to recruit children from the ages of 5 to 18. 

Of course the players would compete in age appropriate groups.

Johnson is still looking for sponsors and he said it costs $20 to register a team with Little League Baseball. The captain said it is up to the sponsor if they want to fully stock the team with uniforms and equipment. 

The 12-year Little League organizer said his company CoStarz International Inc. can help sponsors fund raise and get teams running.

Johnson can be contacted through his web site at www.costarz.net, or e-mail: captcurt@costarz.net.

The veteran said this league is all about fun times for the children.

Da Silva: Mercosur requires togetherness

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina — President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called on Argentina to work with his country in strengthening and expanding the four-nation trade bloc, known as Mercosur. 

Da Silva made the appeal here Monday, on his first trip abroad since his landslide election in late October. 

After meeting with Argentine leader Eduardo Duhalde, Da Silva addressed the Argentine people, saying his future government wants to work with the bloc’s partners in strengthening Mercosur. He said the problems affecting the four-nation trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, are caused by the economic problems of each member, and can be overcome. 

Da Silva blamed what he called "mistaken" economic policies for the crises affecting the Mercosur nations. In recent years, he said, "political and economic options, which were not in the national interests of our countries, led us to successive crises."

Argentina is in the midst of its deepest recession in decades, while Brazil has seen its economy slowed and currency devalued by some 40 percent this year. These problems have cut trade in half between the two main Mercosur partners. The countries’ trade this year is estimated at only $7 billion, compared with more than $14 billion five years ago.

This decline in turn has affected Mercosur. Brazilian exports to Mercosur fell by more than half to $2.7 billion in the first 10 months of this year, compared to last year.

Da Silva called for adopting policies to strengthen trade, and to include Chile and Bolivia, which are associate members, as full Mercosur partners.

By strengthening Mercosur, Da Silva said, the region can establish a common front in negotiations with the United States, to create a western hemisphere free-trade zone.

For his part, Duhalde in remarks preceding Da Silva's speech said the future of Mercosur is in the minds of all Argentine political parties. Argentina will hold presidential elections in April.

Extra year sought
for presidential term

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some deputies would like to reform the Costa Rican constitution to allow a president to serve for five years instead of the current four years.

José Francisco Salas, an independent lawmaker, and other legislators proposed a constitutional change to that effect in the current session, 

A five-year term would give a president more time to develop projects and reach goals, Salas said. In Costa Rica a president cannot serve two terms.

The idea also would save the cost of a presidential election every 20 years, proponents said.

Red Cross auto lottery 
kicked off Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first drawing of winners of the Cruz Roja, or Red Cross, lottery, which awards cars to participants, was held Saturday. For over a month now promotions and ticket sales for the drawing could be seen all around downtown.

According to a Cruz Roja press release over one million raffle tickets were sold during this initial drawing period. Ten people won this round and more can win during the second drawing to be held on Dec. 14.

A ticket to play cost 1,000 colons (around $2.67) and they can be purchased all over town at Shell stations, Mas X Menos locations, Cruz Roja locales, from street vendors and other places.

The Cruz Roja will distribute to 10 winners of the next drawing “super” cars like a Toyota Corolla and a 4 Runner.

Sweepstake hopefuls can apply for consolation prizes by calling 296-9656 and activating a number on their ticket. It is not necessary to activate the ticket to play for the vehicles.

A person can find out if he or she won by calling one of these numbers 257-5258 and 234-4422 after the drawing date.

Cars will be officially delivered on Dec. 18. 

Poisoned girl, 2, rescued
during storms

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seguridad Pública agents helped rescue a poisoned baby girl Monday morning in the midst of a strong storm that battered the area of Limón,

According to the police report, a small plane of the Seguridad Pública’s fleet was used to transport Amayte Granados Agüero, 2, from Hospital Tony Facio in Limon to San José.

The baby had ingested a fatal amount of product used for fumigation. The rescue ended when the pilots were met by a Red Cross unit at the Juan Santamaría airport at 1 p.m. and the baby was rushed to Hospital de Niños for treatment.
 
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