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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 11, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 245
Jo Stuart
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You don't have to be a gordo to win the Gordo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big El Gordo Navideño lottery winners will be picked Sunday, and anyone who has been here awhile has a ticket.

The big prize, the Gordo, is 1.5 billion colons. We are talking about some $3.6 million. The dollar is down a bit these days, but $3.6 million is still serious money.

Just think what you could do with $3.6 million.

For starters you could fix the pothole in front of the New York Bar on Calle 9. And you could at least grade the road into Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula. And you could donate half to pay off the country’s gigantic foreign debt. Yeah, right!

Now there is no guarantee that a Gringo will win, but some also are gordos, so there is a certain affinity. P.S. gordo means fat.

The big prizes will be picked Sunday at the Junta Protección Social de San José. That’s just south of the Hospital Nacional de Niños. The profits on the lottery go to social programs all over the country.

The winnings equal some 2,142,857 bottles of Imperial at the Piano Bar, and some 4,687,500 at the less luxurious bars on Avenidas 8 and 10.  That’s beers for the whole country and then some. A little health tip:  Carry your $3.6 million in a neck pouch if going into that Avenida 10 neighborhood.

There still is time to get your El Gordo ticket. An entero or full ticket is 16,000 colons (about $38.50). Considering what editors drop in slot machines each day downtown, this is a deal. Cheapskates can buy partial tickets.

But be on the lookout. There are false tickets floating around. The legitimate ticket is printed on watermarked paper with JPSSJ embedded in gray. 

There are a number of security features, but the best security is to purchase the ticket from an official vendor. The downtown is full of them, and some are even related to owners of A.M. Costa Rica.

It is considered good sportsmanship to give 

some money to the vendor who sold you the winning ticket. A couple a hundred dollars would be nice. After all, $3.6 million minus $200 is still a lot of cash.

A wonderful example of honesty emerged last year when a lottery vendor was holding a winning ticket, but the ticket had been purchased by someone else. The vendor surrendered the winning ticket to the customer. Most of the country thought the vendor was honest but an idiot.

If you do not win the top prize, there are second prizes of 175 million colons. That’s still $422,000. And third prize is 100 million or $241,000.

If you are a good negotiator, you can get beer for close to the 150 colon wholesale price. So even the third prize is 667,000 bottles of beer, enough for a pretty good party.

Remember if you are a U.S. citizen and win the big lottery prizes, you have to pay the U.S. Infernal Revenue Service 35 percent.

Maybe that’s why a Gringo has never won.

Full assembly gets proposed set of new taxes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislative commission reviewing a new tax law presented its work to the full Asamblea Nacional Wednesday and said the document is the best reform of the tax laws since 1917.

Mario Redondo, president of the assembly, said that the document is supported by 14 of the 15 sectors represented on the commission. Only the Movimiento Libertario does not agree because this political party has a vision of the state that is very different than the majority of Costa Ricans, he said.

Libertarians generally oppose the socialism of the Costa Rican government.

The measure pretty much is as expected. A main component is a value added tax that will double the income to the government over that collected by the current 13 percent sales tax. 

The value added tax will require physicans, lawyers, dentists, landlords and utilities to collect the tax. Such services are not now taxed.

Certain services, such as private education and products such as medicine, books and basic foods will not be taxed. Rents under $350 a month will not be taxed either.

The proposal also includes a provision to tax all income that Costa Ricans get, including money raised outside the country. 

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Costa Rica joins nations signing anti-corruption pact
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MERIDA, Yucatan — Officials from more than 100 nations are signing a U.N. convention against corruption here during a conference set up by Mexican President Vincente Fox.

Marco Vinicio Vargas, vice minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto of Costa Rica, is one of those scheduled to sign the document. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft signed the document for his country Tuesday.

The Convention contains a wide range of provisions that will strengthen international efforts to fight corruption and complement existing international initiatives, according to supporters. Among other things, the convention specifies:

• Criminalization: requires governments to criminalize the bribing of their own and foreign 

public officials and other corruption-related crimes such as embezzlement and money laundering.

• Prevention: requires governments to take a number of measures to prevent corruption, including those that promote integrity among their public officials and increase the participation of civil society in the fight against corruption.

• International cooperation, including with respect to asset recovery: provides a practical channel for governments to work together to extradite persons and exchange evidence regarding corruption offenses, and recover assets illicitly acquired by corrupt public officials.

• Cooperation in implementation: creates a vehicle for governments to monitor implementation of the Convention and to share expertise and provide technical assistance relating to their anticorruption efforts. 

Pacheco, Jeb Bush
discuss free trade

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco met with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush Wednesday and said that he hoped that the free trade treaty with the United States would be a valuable means of economic, social and humane development for Central America.

Pacheco met just 30 minutes with Bush, the brother of the U.S. president. Pacheco is in Miami for the 27th annual Caribbean basin conference.

Pacheco told Bush that Costa Rica’s position is that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, ICE, should not be privatized, according to a release from Casa Presidencial.

However, Pacheco said there may be some type of opening created in the telecommunications market that would benefit ICE and strengthen it.

Bush said he would visit Costa Rica in February, and he asked Pacheco to consider supporting Florida as the site for the secretariat of the Free Trade Treaty of the Americas. Costa Rica already said it would support the bid of Trinidad and Tobago as the location for the secretariat, but Bush suggested that Florida should be an option, too.

Woman dies in Osa
by hand of companion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another woman has died even though she sought a legal protective order against her aggressor.

The killing and a subsequent suicide happened in San Francisco Tinoco de Osa in the southwest of the country.

Investigators said that a 45-year-old women, Ligia Picado Elizondo, was the victim of a 41-year-old former companion with the last names of Hernández Zúniga.  The woman sought a protective order several days ago because Hernández had physically and verbally attacked her, investigators said.

Wednesday about 3:30 a.m. the man arrived at the house of the woman and shot her behind the right ear. The man fled but was found later with a .22-caliber bullet in his own head.

Christmas downtown
shows its ugly side

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police officials and average Costa Ricans are shaken by the way the Christmas confetti tradition downtown turned into a confrontation with police Tuesday night.

A man sprayed tear gas into the eyes of one woman, and young toughs acted in a menacing manner.

The tradition started Monday as a joint project between the Municipalidad de San José and downtown merchants. As a crowd gathered at the pedestrian boulevard and Calle Central, a band played and revelers threw handfuls of confetti.

Tuesday the celebration took a wrong turn as some youngsters used the confetti as an excuse to throw items into the faces of passers-by. Municipal police were confronted by a yelling, threatening mob of young men.

Reinforcement put down the disturbance, but the injured woman appeared on television all Wednesday with bandages over her eyes. 

Police officials said they were worried that the violence and the youthful menacing might continue through the Saturday Festival de Luz parade through the downtown.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, joined with San José Mayor Johnny Araya Tuesday night to assess the situation. Police already have boosted patrols in the downtown, but they seemed to have been fewer in number than the menacing toughs Tuesday night.

Water company makes
new structure official

By the  A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, inaugurated its new building on Pavas boulevard Wednesday. The 3 billion-colon structure houses 700 employees behind tinted glass and blue walls.

However, the water company still will keep open its offices on Paseo de los Estudiantes in downtown San José for the convenience of customers there.

Body found on beach

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police located the skeleton of a woman on a beach near Puerto Jiménez, Rincon de Osa Tuesday. Agents said that the woman’s skull showed signs of fractures produced by a blunt instrument and that she was tied up with fabric that also was connected to a piece of metal railway track

Volunteers to take oath

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 15 new members of the U.S. Peace Corps will be sworn in today joining 40 others who are not in Costa Rica working with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia. Peace Corps volunteers are working all over Costa Rica in attempting to improve family life.

Brazil cracks down
on gun ownership

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

BRASILIA, Brazil —  Congress has approved legislation that would regulate the purchase of guns and outlaw carrying them in public. 

The legislation would create a national firearms registry and give gun owners six months to register or surrender their weapons to police. After that, anyone owning an unregistered gun could face a four-year prison term.  The bill also calls for background checks for gun purchases and raises the age for legal gun ownership from 21 to 25. 

If the bill is signed into law by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a referendum would be held in 2005 on whether to ban outright gun sales in the country. 

Brazil has one of the worst murder rates in the world, with more than 40,000 fatal shootings a year. Scores of gun-control bills have been introduced in Congress, only to be defeated by the nation's gun lobby, the world's sixth largest.

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Nosara death demonstrates easy entry for tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The death of a woman Monday morning in Nosara points up inconsistencies in the Costa Rican immigration policies and problems in the record-keeping policies of the United States.

The woman Elaine Beth Fielding, 41, appears to have freely and legally entered Costa Rica as a tourist even though she has an arrest record in Monroe County, Fla., that probably would preclude her from obtaining residency.

Ms. Fielding has at least five arrests between Nov. 18, 1998, and May 4, 2001, ranging from robbery to possession of narcotic paraphernalia, a parole violation and possession of a controlled substance, according to the Web site of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Monroe County contains the resort community of Key West.

Investigators suspect that Ms. Fielding’s death was due to a cocaine overdose, but they are awaiting lab tests on white power found at the scene at the Hotel Casa Toucan to be sure.

Arrests do not represent convictions, and the outcome of the arrests listed on the Web site could not be verified. But to obtain legal residency here, a foreign applicant has to present a clear police report. A record such as the one generated by Ms. Fielding certainly would at least cause officials to demand more information or perhaps  deny the application.

Although Costa Rica is part of a project to develop a Central American-wide data base of sex exploiters of minors, there is little progress in generating a data base of persons who have committed other crimes.

Traveling with Ms. Fielding was Deborah Anne Turner, who also was listed in the Fuerza Pública police report as sharing a cabina at the hotel with her. Ms. Turner has a record of 17 arrests in Monroe County, according to the same sheriff’s Web site.

Her arrests range from one Dec. 21, 1998, of possession of a controlled substance to cocaine possession and violation of probation in January 

Monroe County photo 
Elaine Beth Fielding
Monroe County photo 
Deborah Anne Turner

2002 to the sale of cocaine last May 27 and a count of driving under the influence Nov. 8.

Typically, such violations would not be uncovered during a routine immigration review for an incoming tourist. Part of the reason is the way police records are kept in the United States.

Officials of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería and of the security ministry frequently bemoan the federal system of the United States. That means police records are maintained by municipalities, states and federal agencies but there is no unified system or cross reference. Only the most serious offenders show up in the FBI reports.

If people with extensive police records seek residency here, they probably would have been able to provide a clean police report from a U.S. municipality in which they had not lived for long to avoid making their negative history available. Several expats have bragged on Internet discussion lists of having done just that. 

With little background checks being done on tourists who come here, some expats who could not obtain residency due to crimes they have committed opt to become perpetual tourists. They live here and renew their tourism visa every 90 days by taking brief trips out of the country.  Immigration officials here are trying to prevent that, but only infrequently is a North American picked up for having renewed a visa too many times.

Lighten up, world press group tells U.S. officials
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GENEVA, Switzerland — A global coalition of free press organizations has asked the United States to ease travel restrictions on foreign journalists.

The Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations, meeting here on the eve of the World Summit on the Information Society, cited the detention and expulsion of foreign journalists from the United States in recent months and said that journalists should be included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program for visitors from friendly countries.

"Keeping journalists out of the United States damages the U.S. image as an open society," the Committee said in a resolution, which asked the U.S. Congress to include journalists in the many professions that do not need a visa for their stays in the United States.

In recent months, journalists from France, Mexico,

 the United Kingdom, Japan, Austria and elsewhere have been detained at U.S. airports, handcuffed and expelled from the country for not having visas. Customs officials had routinely waived the visa requirement in the past, but that changed with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The members of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations which signed the resolutions are the Inter American Press Association, the International Association of Broadcasting, the International Federation of the Periodical Press, the International Press Institute, the North American Broadcasters Association, the World Association of Newspapers and the World Press Freedom Committee.

The United States requires visas for journalists even if they come from countries where ordinary citizens do not need visas to enter the United States. A number of journalists have complained of rough treatment at the hands of immigration employees.

Two newspeople and a paper praised for efforts
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PARIS, France — An international group monitoring the freedom of journalists says it is awarding two journalists and a Zimbabwe news organization for efforts to convey information in hostile environments.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders cited Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet for his commitment to freedom of information. Lmrabet is serving a three-year prison sentence in connection with the publication in his satirical magazine of cartoons critical of King Mohammed. The group said Lmrabet resumed a protest hunger strike Nov. 30 in his prison cell.

The group also honored Haitian radio journalist Michele Montas, the former director of Radio Haiti International, as a defender of press freedom. Her husband, journalist Jean Dominique, was murdered in 2000. The group says Ms. Montas was forced to close the radio station and leave the country after she was attacked a year ago. 

Reporters Without Borders cited The Zimbabwe Daily News for what the journalists' group called an organization that best highlights the struggle for freedom of expression. 

The Zimbabwe government closed the Harare newspaper in September after it frequently criticized President Robert Mugabe. 

U.S. labor force highly mobile among young, skilled
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States' workforce is highly mobile, particularly among young, highly skilled workers and people new to the United States, an official of the U.S. Department of Labor says.

Both groups have the most to gain in terms of income by changing jobs, according to Francis Horvath of the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a report on labor mobility in the United States, Horvath said the United States is a generally highly mobile society with nearly one in five people changing his or her residence each year.

Horvath added that nearly half of the people who moved for job reasons, moved a far distance — to a different region of the country.

The official said less than 2 percent of movers in the late 1990s changed their residence because they became unemployed. The opposite was true in the 1980s when unemployment rates were much higher.

The most important factor affecting both job and general mobility in the United States is age: People

 in their 20s and at the start of their careers are the most likely to move, Horvath said. He added that young adults hold an average of nine jobs between the ages of 18 and 34 and that 27 percent of U.S. workers have been with their current employer for one year or less. Mobility rates fall sharply for people over 30, he added.

People with the lowest skill levels are also very likely to move as many of their jobs are seasonal and as they strive to gain better incomes, Horvath said.

After age 45 differences in educational attainment have much less effect on people's desire or willingness to move, Horvath reported.

Horvath said the most important contributor to growth in the U.S. workforce in all regions of the country has been immigration. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, foreign-born workers now make up 40 percent of the workforce.

New people moving to an area, especially the highly educated, stimulate economic development and the provision of services, according to the Department of Commerce's Census Bureau. The bureau tracks trends in the movement of people in the United States.

Rules published for recall election in Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Supreme Court has published rules that would govern a possible recall referendum for President Hugo Chavez. 

The rules published Tuesday will apply if election officials declare the opposition  collected the 2.4 million signatures required to call a referendum.

Chavez would be forced to step down if more Venezuelans vote to remove him than voted for 
him in the last presidential election. 3.8 million, or 60 percent of the voting population, voted Chavez into office in 2000.

In addition, more people must vote Chavez out than vote to retain him on the day of the referendum.

Supporters of the president say it would be difficult for the opposition to garner enough support to meet those two requirements. 

But critics say the rules will cause the president problems because he must make sure his supporters show up at the polls to vote.

The National Election Council is expected to announce in January whether there will be a recall vote.

Colombian rebels decline to release five hostages
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia —  Rebels holding five foreign tourists in a remote jungle region say they have suspended plans to release the captives by Christmas. 

Rebels of the National Liberation Army, the ELN, said Tuesday the promised release was put on hold because of ongoing military operations in the area. 

The ELN said those operations have put the hostages' lives at risk. Four Israelis and a Briton are still being held. 

The foreigners were among eight people kidnapped in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains in September. One hostage, a Briton, 

managed to escape while two others, a Spaniard and a German, were released and turned over to a humanitarian mission last month. The Colombian military has been searching for the remaining hostages in an effort to free them. 

Earlier, more than 20 people staged a sit-in at Bogota's Catholic cathedral to demand that President Alvaro Uribe's government implement a prisoner exchange. 

They included relatives of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in February of last year by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

Colombia has the world's highest kidnapping rate. More than 3,000 people are abducted each year. 

Jo Stuart
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