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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 4, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 240
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Angel Castellanos crafts glass figures
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Carlos Guzmán makes custom guitars
Artisan fair opens for Christmas craft sales
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas artisan fair that opened Wednesday has a greater selection than the same event last year, plus admission is free.

The fair, technically the Feria Nacional de Artesanía: Manos Creadores, runs until Dec. 13 at the Antigua Aduana, also called the Centro Nacional de Exposiciones, on Calle 23 in Barrio California.

This is the same place where the fair was located last year, but the building has reverted to its owner, the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deporte. The minister, Guido Sáenz, inaugurated the event Wednesday afternoon.

The fair is a tradition in San José and provides a way for the small craftsmen and women to sell their works to the public. The products on display Wednesday ranged from bottles of chutney to a mosaic of Pablo Picasso’s 1937 work, the troubling "Guernica."

The fair features crafts workshops each weekday at 2 p.m. with entertainment later. 

For those interested in an event a bit more academic, the Feria Navideña de las Artes y las Letras is running until Dec. 11 at the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro. The event is organized by the faculty with theater, poetry, expositions, art work and comedy. More information is available at www.odi.ucr.ac.cr

Zoellick says open service industries are vital
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Service industries provide the basic infrastructure for 21st century development the way that railroads and bridges did in the 19th century, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said Tuesday.

In a speech to the Coalition of Service Industries here, Zoellick said that, to succeed in this age, developing countries need to build up telecommunications, financial, and educational systems as well as logistical services such as purchasing, demand forecasting, production planning, inventory control, warehousing, distribution, and express delivery.

While reliable, rapid, affordable communications are necessary for international commerce, he said, businesses in many developing economies still cannot get even basic telephone service.

"To have e-commerce, countries need low-cost, accessible, and effective telecommunications and Internet systems, unburdened by taxes and fees." said Zoellick. "They need reliable sources of electricity to operate online. Goods need to be packaged, shipped, and distributed in a timely fashion, with the cooperation, not corruption or costly circumventions, of customs officials. Purchasing requires reliable payment and credit. Goods trademarks need protection from counterfeiters. Agricultural products must meet health standards."

Open markets in financial services give businesses in developing countries access to money for investment as well as good business practices and new technology, he said.

An educated and trained work force is essential to an expanding economy, he said, but many developing countries block U.S. companies from operating training programs there.

The failure of many developing country projects made possible by foreign aid can be attributed to poor logistics, he said. "The goal is to get the right product to the right place, in the right condition at the right time — and at the right price," Zoellick said.

Zoellick said he expects that World Trade Organization negotiations, including services negotiations, will resume early in 2004. 

Meanwhile, the United States is negotiating free trade agreements with a number of willing countries, pressing for open services markets, he said. Among these are negotiations with five Central American nations, including Costa Rica.

Yet he warned that Congress has strongly resisted provisions in trade agreements authorizing temporary visas for business workers even though, he argued, "services businesses — including America's — require moving people across borders."

"If we do not make a better case," Zoellick said, "we will be paralyzed in Congress and unable to help your industry, one of America's brightest lights."

Access by U.S. firms to service industries in Costa Rica remains controversial even as negotiators begin their final round. Insurance and telecommunications remain state monopolies. Banking is partly so. And retail services are constricted by import duties.

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78 prosecutors get
permanent positions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new fiscal general named 78 prosecutors to tenured positions Wednesday.

The positions had been filled on an interim basis, the bulk of them since 1998 when a new penal code went into effect.

The new fiscal general is Francisco Dalla’nese Ruiz. When he himself was named a week ago he said that clearing up the uncertainty in the Ministerio Público was his top priority.

In all there are 201 positions that were being filled on an interim basis. The appointments made Wednesday are in the San José area. These individuals will be sworn in Dec. 17. Meanwhile, the fiscal general will be continuing to make permanent appointments throughout the rest of the country, said a statement from the Poder Judicial.

The Ministerio Público is the nation’s prosecuting organization.

Dalla’nese was quoted as saying that for the appointments he used objective criteria. "My goal is to create a culture of objectivity in the Ministerio Público," he said.

Christmas cocaine
derailed by agents

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dreams of a white Christmas by certain Costa Ricans were dashed Tuesday when investigators grabbed 127 kilos of cocaine that was destined for local consumption.

The Judicial Investigating organization said three men were traveling in two vehicles about 1 p.m. Tuesday when officials stopped them in Dominicalito de Osa on the Constanera highway.

The drubs, wrapped in one-kilos packages, was found in a double floor of one of the vehicles. The three men, all Costa Ricans, were detained. 

The drugs, some 280 pounds, had come from Colombia through Panamá for consumption in Costa Rica, officials said. Investigators from Pérez Zeledón and Quepos were involved in the investigation for which agents had substantial prior information.

Human organ net
alleged in Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Police in Brazil have arrested nine Brazilians and two Israelis suspected of involvement in the international trafficking of human organs. 

Authorities say the group, led by the two Israelis, searched for people in the northeastern Pernambuco state who were willing to sell one of their kidneys. 

Investigators say the donors were given medical tests to check their health before being sent to Durban, South Africa, where the organ was removed. 

The donors were paid up to $10,000 for the organ.  Police estimate some 30 organs were sold in the scheme and say more arrests may be made. 

German court wants
Argentinean dictator

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NUREMBERG, Germany — A German court has issued an arrest warrant for a former Argentine dictator for the death of two German students in the 1970s.

The court here  says former dictator Jorge Videla was in power when Argentine security forces tortured and killed Elisabeth Kaesemann and Klaus Zieschank.

Two other former Argentine military officers, ex-navy chief Emilio Massera and retired Gen. Carlos Suarez Mason, are also accused of being indirectly involved in the killings.

Human rights groups say as many as 30,000 people were killed or disappeared during Argentina's so-called "dirty war" against leftists and regime opponents in the 1970s.

Brazil’s president
visits Middle East

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva has begun a five-country tour of the Middle East to boost economic and political ties.

Syria's official SANA news agency said Wednesday that da Silva and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed cooperation agreements in several areas, including tourism. 

News reports also say that da Silva is seeking support for Brazil's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council during his tour.

The Brazilian president is expected to travel to Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Libya over the next week. He is set to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia while in Egypt.

"Lula," as he is known, is the first Brazilian head of state to visit the Middle East since 1870, when Emperor Pedro II toured there. Da Silva has more than 100 aides along for the trip. 

Albert visits legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Prince Albert of Monaco paid a visit to the Asamblea Nacional Wednesday where he heard Mario Redondo, assembly president, say that the country must promote the proposed new tax plan. Redondo said that nation must transcend the debt that is suffocating Costa Rica.

Redondo also promoted the proposed free trade treaty with the United States. which he said was of vital importance.

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U.S. pension system called flexible and robust
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has one of the most flexible and robust private pension systems in the world, giving future retirees in the United States greater confidence than those in certain other countries, according to officials of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Voluntary private pensions and personal savings are two of three pillars of income support for U.S. retirees, said Joseph Piacentini, acting director of the department's Office of Policy and Research. They supplement national government Social Security payments — the primary support for most retirees — which are financed by a tax on wages.

Piacentini said in an interview that the number of people covered by U.S. private pension plans began to grow significantly during and after World War II. While the U.S. government doesn't require private companies to offer their workers a pension plan, approximately 50 percent of full-time employees of private companies are covered by an employer plan, Morton Klevan, a department senior policy adviser, added.

While private plans were sparingly regulated during the 1950s and 1960s, in 1974 Congress passed a law that provided for minimum standards for plan vesting, funding and participation. Vesting is conveying to an employee a portion of a plan's benefits that are not forfeitable should the employee leave a job.

The law — called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act — also set some minimum standards for employer-provided retiree health plans, according the department's web site.

The federal government encourages companies to offer pension plans by extending favorable tax treatment for them, Piacentini said. As tax rates increased during and after World War II, this benefit became even more appreciated, he added.

Klevan said there are two main categories of U.S. private pension plans.

Defined benefit plans, which in many cases are negotiated between the employer and a labor union, use a formula to compute the benefit to be paid for life upon retirement. The formula is typically based on the pay and total number of years worked. 

The employer is responsible for any funding shortfall in assets to pay benefits. If the employer goes bankrupt or otherwise cannot meet its payment obligations, a government body, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, assumes control and pays benefits up to a maximum annual amount adjusted each year, he said. The guarantee

corporation is funded by premiums collected from 
employers that sponsor an insured defined benefit pension plan.

In the other type of plan, defined contribution, the employer, employee or both pay into an individual account invested in financial markets. This type of fund is becoming increasingly more popular. The worker reaps the rewards of any gains in his or her account but also bears the risk of loss or of outliving the accumulated funds. 

That's one reason why personal savings, which should begin at a young age, are important, Klevan said.

A pension can generally move with an employee if he or she changes jobs, Piacentini said. Workers like such plans because they can choose if and how much to contribute and, in some cases, how their money is invested, Piacentini said.

The Labor Department monitors the country's approximately 730,000 private pension plans and brings civil actions against a trustee for any irregularity in the management of a fund. The department will also refer for prosecution to the Justice Department cases of fraud or embezzlement, Klevan said.

Currently, the normal retirement age in the government's Social Security program is 65, the official said. He noted, however, that a higher age of 67 is being phased in for people currently in the workforce. The earliest a worker can retire under Social Security is age 62.

People who retire earlier than at age 65 receive reduced benefits from the government pension system, according to Klevan. Generally, early retirees who withdraw benefits from a private pension plan before they are age 59-1/2 are charged a penalty tax for the early withdrawal.

Klevan said more people in the United States now keep working even after they officially retire, usually in less demanding jobs or part-time work. Others are delaying their retirement so they can continue to earn money for their later years, he said.

Klevan said the United States has the advantage of a higher birth rate and more immigration than some countries. More births and immigrants mean eventually that more workers will pay taxes into Social Security for the benefit of retirees, he said.

In comparison, he said, many other developed countries are experiencing a "more acute problem" of overloaded public pension systems, which tend to be more inflexible than private systems, because they have a fast growing number of retirees and a low rate of births and immigrants.

DEA running media blitz to catch drug suspect
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is offering a reward to anyone who has information that leads to the capture and arrest of a Mexican drug trafficker, who has been plying his illegal trade for more than three decades.

The DEA said that the trafficker, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, has been operating one of the 
largest and most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, smuggling wholesale quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. state of Arizona and other areas along the U.S.-Mexican southwest border.

Zambada-Garcia, also known as "El Mayo," has been indicted by the United States for trafficking 

activities, and recently emerged as one of the top drug dealers in Mexico after a bloody battle with the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization, based in Tijuana. Zambada-Garcia is said to have consolidated his control over drug smuggling routes from the Mexican state of Sonora into Arizona.

DEA spokesperson Ramona Sanchez said that while there is no hard evidence that Zambada-Garcia has crossed the border into the United States, the DEA is not ruling out his presence in Arizona since he has family in that state. Relocation to other countries, perhaps in Latin Ameria, also is possible.

Sanchez said the size of the DEA reward for the capture of Zambada-Garcia will depend on such factors as the quantity and value of the information provided to her agency. Meanwhile, the DEA has an aggressive media campaign about Zambada-Garcia, with wanted posters and flyers of the drug lord at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. Two billboards are up along Interstate 10 in southern Arizona for information leading to Zambada-Garcia's capture.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Zambada-Garcia's indictment July 31, along with the arrests of more 240 individuals, as part of a 19-month-long operation called Operation Trifecta. The indictment charged Zambada-Garcia, and two of his top lieutenants, with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine, that was produced in Colombia, to markets in New York/New Jersey, California, and to Chicago, Ill.

As a statement to the danger that Zambada-Garcia presents, the Bush administration designated the Mexican drug trafficker as subject to its Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The Kingpin Act is designed to deny significant foreign narcotics traffickers, their related businesses, and their operatives access to the U.S. financial system and all trade and transactions involving U.S. companies and individuals.

Jo Stuart
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