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A.M. Costa Rica photoAMONG THE BEST nativity scenes in San José is the one on the side lawn of the Costa Rican Supreme Court Building not far from the downtown. The exhibit reflects the deep Catholic culture of the country.
as spectator sport
By Jay Brodell
The political season that results in presidential and legislative elections Feb. 3 promises to be exciting to foreign observers here.
The major parties already are at each others throats over the results of a poll published Sunday in La Nación. The man who the poll said was ahead took out full-page advertisements in major newspapers to thank the people for giving him a 7.5 percent advantage.
That was Abel Pacheco, the United Social Christian candidate, although you would never know it from his campaign. He has downplayed the party, called Unidad Social Cristiana in Spanish. In fact, he did not mention his party affiliation in his full-page ads. It is no coincidence that the current, sometimes unpopular president is from the same party.
The Sunday poll drew strong responses from officials of the Liberation Party (Partido Liberación Nacional) because the survey showed their candidate, Rolando Araya Monge tied with upstart Otton Solís of the Citizens’ Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana). They threatened to file a complaint with the Supreme election Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones).
Solís left the Liberation Party a year ago to push his anticorruption campaign, and the Liberation Party members are not used to being in third place or sharing second place.
The company that did the survey, Unimer, posted the whole thing on La Nación’s Web site, and the methodology and the math seems sound. The surveyors talked to more than 2,000 would-be voters and carefully stratified the sample to reflect urban and rural opinions as well as opinions from geographical areas far from San José.
If Unimer did the survey the way the firm said it did on the Web site, then the effort is about as accurate as you can get. But that doesn’t mean what was reported is true. All surveys are a sample of what was in the public mind at the time of the survey. Many minds may change by Feb. 3. And there is a lot of wiggle room in any survey.
The poll showed Araya and Solís each with about 22 percent of the anticipated vote. About 30 percent of the respondents supported Pacheco.
One Liberation Party candidate, Sandra Piszk, seemed to know the situation Saturday. She made a big pitch before a meeting of Democrats Abroad that voters should support the party rather than just the presidential candidate.
In fact she came very close to saying that voters should support the party DESPITE the presidential candidate, Araya. She seeks to be vice president.
Araya is generally unpopular among many sectors of the electorate.
She admited that her party has made mistakes and that "some members of Liberation Party . . . have acted incorrectly." But the strength of a party, a committee of politicians, is needed for a president to rule, she said. And a new party hasn’t been around long enough to make many mistakes, she noted in a reference to Solís.
So the situation is something like this:
• Pacheco is running as a representative of a party that can boast of the current president. But he doesn’t want anyone to know that. His campaign potrays him as a lone wolf, a man of the people.
• Liberation Party officials encourage the public to vote for a committee instead of a candidate, particularly if they do not like the candidiate, Araya.
• Solís is basking in the glow of being taken seriously, and now he runs the risk of voters and commentators taking a critical look at his platform, which is somewhat to the left of the traditional left-leaning Liberation Party. He is very much of a lone wolf who is trying to hammer together a party.
Those who find this amusing might also be interested in knowing that
unless a single presidential candidate wins at least 40 percent of the
popular vote, the political silly season might keep right on going until
there is a runoff vote in April.
WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee has voted overwhelmingly to approve trade promotion authority, otherwise known as fast track, for the president.
By 18-3, with three Democrats voting against, the committee approved a bill that would give the president broader authority to participate in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations.
The bill would cover agreements reached in trade negotiations completed before June 2005 and allow for a possible two-year extension.
Under fast track, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments. Since the previous grant expired early in 1994, attempts to reauthorize TPA have failed over labor and environmental issues.
The Finance Committee vote came less than a week after the House of Representatives passed its version of fast track 215-214 Thursday.
For fast track to become law requires passage of a final bill by the House and Senate and signature by President Bush.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle has said he did not expect to schedule a vote by the full Senate until after Congress returns in 2002 from a holiday recess.
Yet a statement issued by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick sought Senate action before the recess.
"We urge the Senate leadership to draw on this bipartisan vote to complete action on TPA by the end of this year," Zoellick said, "demonstrating our common interest in advancing America's economic prospects and world leadership."
Because the Finance Committee approved the bill in a rush to conform
with Senate rules over meeting times, Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic
|chairman, scheduled another committee
meeting today to consider further amendments to it.
The Senate Finance bill makes only a few changes to the House-passed bill. Baucus praised the House bill's language on labor and environmental standards.
"The standard set by the U.S.-Jordan FTA [Free Trade Agreement] is essentially enshrined in negotiating objectives," Baucus said.
The U.S.-Jordan agreement prevents either side from weakening its environmental and labor laws in order to increase trade and investment.
The Senate Finance bill also includes a provision concerning problems that have resulted from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) mechanism for settling disputes between foreign investors and states.
That provision aims to avert potential threats to environmental and other national, state and local regulations from dispute-settlement panels over investment issues.
Under NAFTA's Chapter 11, foreign companies have already sued for compensation over a California ban on a toxic gasoline additive, a federal Buy America procurement law and a jury verdict in a Mississippi fraud case. Investors have already brought successful challenges against Mexican and Canadian government decisions.
The Senate Finance bill also aims to prevent weakening of U.S. antidumping and other unfair-trade laws. The U.S. delegation at the November Doha trade ministers' meeting accepted reopening WTO negotiations over such trade rules despite opposition from a majority in the Senate.
"Especially given the dubious results of the recent negotiations in the WTO," Baucus said, "this topic is particularly important."
Baucus said he wants Senate passage of fast track linked to passage of an expanded program for trade adjustment assistance for workers who lose their jobs as a result of imports.
|Body of Canadian man
found in Guanacaste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Searchers have found the body of a Canadian man who lived in Costa Rica and died while SCUBA diving near Playa Panamá in Guanacaste, according to police.
The man was identified as Jean Claude Douset, 63, said a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization. The man was reported missing Sunday.
There was conflicting information on the man, and Canadian authorities
declined to confirm the identity until more information was obtained.
Former rocker kills
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
A man who was one of the rock group Cafe con Leche set himself on fire early Monday morning and died Wednesday.
Investigators identified him as Enrique Ramírez Bianguini. They
said he doused himself with gasoline in front of the Barrio Lujan home
of his woman business partner and her father. The location is a half block
south of Avenida 10 at Calle 21.
Strike puts damper
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Wednesday marked the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic radio signal transmission.
On Dec. 12, 1901, in an experiment designed by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, the letter "s" was transmitted in morse code from a wireless station on a cliff at Poldhu in Cornwall, England. The signal was received in Newfoundland, Canada, some 3,500 kilometers away, using an aerial suspended from a kite.
A week of centennary events are planned in Canada and other countries.
But they are off to an inauspicious start. A strike at the Canadian Broadcasting
Corp. forced the cancellation of a live radio program which would have
connected South Africa, Finland, and Australia with St. John's, Newfoundland.
Police harvest the crop
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The marijuana crop was doing pretty well until police arrived. Investigators said they found about 800 plants about five and a half feet high (1.70 meters) on a finca in Puriscal. The plants were destroyed, police said.
|Big strike planned
in Argentina today
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina is bracing for a nationwide strike Thursday, one day after thousands of people demonstrated here to protest government austerity measures.
Protesters shouted, banged on pots and honked horns Wednesday as they rallied in central Buenos Aires to demand the repeal of new banking restrictions.
At issue is a 250 peso limit per week on banking withdrawals, which business owners say has led to plummeting sales. Retail sales fell by at least 50 percent after the government announced the restrictions in early December.
President Fernando de la Rua introduced the measure to prevent a run on the currency. He acted after panicked Argentines rushed to withdraw deposits, amid speculation his government would freeze their accounts to save reserves.
The Argentine economy is near collapse after four years of recession, and the government is struggling to avoid defaulting on a $132 billion debt.
Also Wednesday, officials postponed the November payment of state pensions for one week, due to a shortage of funds after tax revenues plunged.
President de la Rua is struggling to implement reforms so Argentina can qualify for international aid. The International Monetary Fund recently declined to approve Argentina's next loan installment worth $1.3 billion.
Cuban convicted as spy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MIAMI — A convicted Cuban spy has been sentenced to life in prison for passing secrets to the Communist island from south Florida in the 1990's.
A federal judge, Joan Lenard, sentenced Gerardo Hernandez on Wednesday. The action comes six months after he and four others were convicted of operating as foreign agents and conspiring to penetrate U.S. military bases.
The 36-year-old Hernandez also was convicted of conspiracy to murder in the deaths of four Cuban exiles killed when Cuban fighter jets shot down their unarmed planes over the Florida Straits in 1996. The incident led to passage of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act tightening U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
Before sentencing, Hernandez was allowed to address the court, at which time he denounced his trial as politically motivated and a propaganda show. He also has denied wrongdoing.
Cuba has hailed the men as heroes who tried to prevent Cuban exiles from conducting covert missions on the island. Authorities in Havana also have denounced the exiles for violating Cuban airspace and territorial waters.
The one day national strike in Venezuela coincided with falling public support for President Hugo Chavez — especially when compared to his standing just six-months ago.
The loss of public support will make it increasingly difficult for the populist leader to surmount growing opposition to his leftist policies.
Juan Peralta says he helped elect Chavez president, but now he is disillusioned. "I am really angry with him," he says. If opinion polls are right, Peralta is one of many Venezuelans who feel President Chavez has not fulfilled his promises.
Chavez, a charismatic former paratrooper who led an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1992, won the presidency in 1998 with 59 percent of the vote, the highest percentage in 40 years of Venezuelan democracy.
He won on promises to end corruption and bring prosperity to a country where 80 percent of the population is poverty stricken, despite being one of the world's major oil suppliers.
The former paratrooper blamed Venezuela's two traditional political parties for the corruption and mismanagement, and his sweeping presidential victory led to their demise.
After taking office in 1999, Chavez embarked on changing the country's constitution — saying a new charter was needed to launch what he called a peaceful social revolution.
A constituent assembly was elected and drafted a new constitution which was approved in a referendum later that year. In addition to spelling out various social objectives, the new charter gave the president expanded powers.
Most Venezuelans supported all these moves. But in recent months, they seem to have become disillusioned with Chavez.
The polling firm Datanalisis says 57 percent of the population feels it is worse off now than three years ago, and just 24 percent of those polled say they would vote for him if elections were held today.
Datanalisis' chief pollster, Luis Vicente Leon, says all governments after they are in power for several years, lose a certain amount of support. The problem for Chavez, he says, is that he generated expectations that were too great.
Speaking through a translator, Leon says, "when Mr. Chavez was elected
people wanted change and
|punishment for those responsible
for their plight, but today people want jobs and security — concrete things."
President Chavez' supporters say the Venezuelan leader still retains substantial support. Congressman Tarek William Saab, who is a member of the ruling party, says the polls do not show the extent of Chavez' support among the poor.
"These sectors are solidly behind Mr. Chavez, and they are a majority and the ones that can decide any situation. The only worry we have is to continue meeting their expectations in terms of concrete actions," Saab said.
This is why President Chavez says he will not back down on a series of economic laws, including a measure to redistribute land that is opposed by the private sector. Monday's national strike, which brought together business and opposition-led labor unions, was aimed at pressuring the Venezuelan leader to modify the laws.
The president's hard-line position is welcomed by his supporters, like Caracas hotel worker Henry Benedetti, who attended a downtown rally Monday to hear Chavez speak.
"We are supporting Presidente Chavez because we know he is the only man that can get Venezuela developed, because in the last 40 years we have been governed by a people that have just robbed us. They do not care about the people, but this president is taking care of the people," he said.
But some analysts believe the success of the strike shows the extent of the opposition to Chavez and his growing vulnerability. For analyst Anibal Romero, Chavez has lost more than just his popularity.
"It is not a problem merely of loss of popularity, it is a problem of loss of legitimacy. A normal, democratic politician in normal democratic conditions can lose his popularity, but the regime does not necessarily lose its popularity. In the Venezuelan case, what we are seeing is a different kind of situation. We are seeing that a charismatic leader loses his popularity and that the regime consequently loses its legitimacy," he said.
Chavez shows no sign of acknowledging that he may be in political trouble. Despite calls for dialogue by the opposition, the Venezuelan leader has responded by threatening to take harder measures against his political opponents while vowing not to modify his controversial economic laws.
Given this stance, the prospect is for further unrest in this South American nation.
OTTAWA — Safeguarding the lawful flow of people and goods across the U.S.-Canada border is vital "to make North America more secure and more prosperous," said Tom Ridge, U.S. director of Homeland Security.
Appearing at a press conference here Wednesday, Ridge joined Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Manley and Canadian Minister of National Revenue Martin Cauchon to brief reporters on the details of a border security declaration that Ridge and Manley signed on behalf of their respective governments.
The declaration "sets our vision for a smart border — a vision that is supported by four pillars: the secure flow of goods, the secure flow of people, secure infrastructure and coordination and information sharing in the enforcement of these objectives," said Manley.
Ridge pointed out that high volumes of travel and commerce between the United States and Canada have made border security a priority for the Bush Administration, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.
U.S. authorities "almost from the moment of the Sept. 11th attacks have been very busy working with their Canadian counterparts on ways to enhance our peoples' security and protect the flow of trade across our borders," he noted. "With our annual trade of around half a trillion dollars, this is clearly a task that goes to the very heart of the well-being of our citizens."
However, "there is no trade-off between our
|peoples' security and a trade-friendly
border," he added. "We need both, for in fact they reinforce each other."
Ridge explained that new "smart technology" would help accomplish these objectives, as outlined in the 30-point action plan that the United States and Canada have agreed to. "Our goal is to do everything we can do to eliminate the wait and hassle for no-risk travelers so we can focus on stopping high-risk individuals" attempting to cross from one country to the other, he said.
Cauchon, speaking alternately in French and in English, praised U.S.-Canadian cooperation on a multitude of trade issues, and paid tribute to the "remarkable work" of officials from both countries in establishing the framework for the border security declaration.
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