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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 19, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 251
Jo Stuart
About us
Out Jacó way Santa is called Gringo Mike, a local businessman distinguished each Christmas by his 11 1/2 months of white beard.

Santa is here with neighbor children Sabrina and Jayda.

Mike has been there five years and has developed a following for his Yuletide persona. He had a gig with 25 youngsters just the other day.

So when in Jacó, be good for goodness sakes!

Being in the right place at the right time
Sometimes I think the title of this column should be "Growing Old in Costa Rica." Or as a friend has advised, you never use the word "old" or "young" (as in "When I was young.") Rather you say, "When I was younger." Okay. "Growing Older in Costa Rica." 

So, besides, as Steve Martin once said, "It’s interesting, as you grow older, how important the weather is," so is it interesting how important the state of one’s health becomes. 

With that in mind, I went, the other day, to the Clinica Durán to see if I could get a flu shot under the Caja (i.e. free). I was told I could not. But remembering that I had recommended to a friend how to get into the system of the national health insurance program here and how happy he is with the attention and care he is getting for his diabetes, I decided it was time for me to "get with the program." 

I knew I should find a cardiologist. I’d stopped seeing the one I liked very much because he was not a member of the Caja. I had yet to replace him, so I asked the receptionist if I could make an appointment with a cardiologist. No, she said. First I had to make an appointment with a general practitioner who would refer me, if necessary, to a cardiologist. Well, I thought, I might as well make an appointment. 

"How is one o’clock?" she asked. 

"Fine," I said. "What day?"

"Today," she said. It was ten minutes to one. How could I resist? So I would spend my afternoon at the Clinica Durán. 

I went downstairs to the receptionist there; who confirmed my appointment and told me to sit down until I was called. First one must get weighed and have blood pressure taken, which, within about 20 minutes, I did. Then I waited in the area outside Door 16 behind

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

which was Doctora Morera with whom I had an appointment. 

I was rather pleased that it would be a woman. Within 20 more minutes I was sitting behind her desk and answering her questions about my medical history. When she asked me when I had last been under the care of a cardiologist and who it was, I told her that it had been a while since seeing one and that I needed one who worked with the Caja. But I gave her the name of my doctor. She smiled, got up and went to the file across the room and brought back a photograph of herself — and my cardiologist! "Yes, that’s Dr. Speranza,’ I said. "You know him!"

"He’s my husband," she explained. At this point the words "serendipity," "there are no accidents" and "timing is everything, kid." went through my mind, although I know that serendipity is supposed to be accidental. Whatever. Summing it all up, I said,

"Que dicha!" Loosely translated, "What luck!." 

And it was because Dr. Morera proceeded to call her husband and discuss my situation. Dr. Speranza, being the excellent cardiologist that he is, remembered everything about me. I felt I was in good hands, indeed. 

Dr. Morera prescribed some medicines and wrote out orders for me to get some tests and return to see her in January. Very pleased with myself and the way of the world, I bounced out of her office and the Clinica Durán, happy that not only did my advice benefit others, I could do some good for myself. And it had all been quite easy.

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The never-ending story 
of Form D-175

By John Wood*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Not even I had thought that the story of that elusive form, D-175, would require another sequel, but here it is:

Having obtained the form at a local pharmacy, I met with the contador (accountant) who had helped to establish my S.A. He had never seen the form and was unaware of the requirement to file it with the Registro Nacional before Dec. 31, lest his clients be fined $185. None had filed the form with him, nor were they aware of it. He checked with his mother, also an accountant. She had never seen the form and was not aware of the requirement to file it before Dec. 31 lest her clients be fined $185. None had filed the form with her. None were aware of it. 

He filled out the form and told me I could file it at "any bank." The next day I attempted to do so at Banco Nacional, Surcusal Atenas (branch office). I presented my D-175 to the lady at the Caja para Empressas (business booth). She had never seen the form and was unaware of the requirement to file it with the Registro Nacional before Dec. 31, lest her clients be fined $185. None had filed the form with her. None were aware of it. 

The lady business expert left her Caja, no doubt to discuss the matter with her gerencia (management). She returned, silently entered data into her computer, stamped the form, and gave me a copy at a nominal charge. I reminded her that the form must be filed at the Registro Nacional, before Dec. 31. No response. 

I remarked that many of her business clients will have to pay una multa muy caro. No response. I remarked that the government lacked the competence to communicate such requirements. No response.

I am certain that none of the aforementioned people will communicate the requirement to their clients. It is not their job. The government will soon collect enough fines to purchase a new fleet of executive stretch limos. They are already checking out the showrooms.

*John Wood fights to file his governmemt forms in Atenas.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Workers at Banco Credito de Cartago (Bancredito) said they would accept it. A Banco Nacional worker in San José said no.

Best advice is to take your form to Tributación Directa, which, coincidentally, has moved to a new location where no one can find it. De Sala Garbo, 300 sur y 100 este, maybe.

Police get wounded
in middle of hijack

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Would-be carjackers blasted their way past a police patrol car in San Pedro a few minutes before midnight Wednesday, and a police officer suffered seven bullet wounds in the back.

The Fuerza Pública officer was identified as Olman Gómez Martínez. A second officer, identified as Carlos Rojas Castillo, suffered cuts of the hands and fingers due to broken glass.

A third man who was on foot suffered bullet wounds to the right leg. He was identified by the last name of Barrantes. 

Police said the two officers stopped to investigate Barrantes, who was running down the road. The man is known to police, officials said.

Suddenly, a red sports utility vehicle drove by firing shots at the patrol car. Police later concluded that the occupants of the red car were trying to hijack a woman’s vehicle from the nearby Super Cindy supermarket and had pulled guns on the owner. However, the woman fled. As the would-be hijackers followed her, they came into contact with the patrol car.

All the injured were reported in stable condition in Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Delivery of passports
will be delayed 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A laminating machine broke Thursday at the office where Costa Ricans get their passports. So the delivery of the identification documents has been disrupted.

Usually, Costa Ricans can obtain a passport in one day. The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería has been processing some 650 passports a day, according to a release.

The end of the year brings a rush for passports due to holiday travel, and the immigration department has been warning Costa Ricans for five months to get their passport early.

So with the broken machine, people who sought a passport Thursday or who will seek one today have two options: The can pay an extra 1,500 colons (about $3.60) and obtain their passport by mail via Correos de Costa Rica or they can pick up the passport next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Normally the immigration department would not be open next week, but officials will be there specifically to deliver passports, they said.

Anti-explosive dogs
donated for airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alterra Partners, the firm that manages Juan Santamaría Airport, has donated two Labrador retrievers who have been trained in explosive detection.

They are Onix, 23 months, and Barny, 16 months. They will become part of the canine corps of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública. The dogs will be able to check luggage as it comes to the airport as well as the premises of the airport. They can detect a wide range of explosives due to three months of intensive training.

Embassy will be closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy said it will be closed for Christmas next Thursday and the following day, Friday, Dec. 26. 

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Trejos calls break in trade talks temporary
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica still is characterizing as temporary the breakdown in talks with the United States over a free-trade treaty.

Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, said Thursday that he still expects to bring the nation into the Central American Free Trade Agreement next January when talks continue with U.S. negotiators.

Four other countries have agreed to the pact that will restructure trade between Central America and the United States, Canada and México, which already have their own agreement.

Trejos specified textiles, insurance, telecommunications and agriculture as areas where both Costa Rica and the United States realized that differences existed.

Anabel González, the chief negotiator, said that there were no fears that the United States would retaliate against Costa Rica because it declined to join the agreement.

Negotiations have been going on since early this year, but insurance and telecommunications always has been a sticking point for Costa Rica because both industries are state monopolies.

Trejos said that Costa Rican and U.S. negotiators will be talking by telephone next week.

However, it remains unclear exactly what options Costa Rica has now that the other four countries, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, have agreed to a draft of the treaty.

Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative, has had nothing but upbeat words for Costa Rica despite the fact that the country broke off negotiations. However, he will be moving on to 

bring the Dominican Republic into the Central American agreement and to begin free-trade negotiations with Panamá. He is not expected to spend much time waiting for Costa Rica to rejoin the talks, and he is not anxious to craft a separate agreement to accommodate the Costa Rican state monopolies. If he did, he would lose negotiation power in future trade talks.

More than 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to the four Central America nations will be duty-free immediately upon entry into force of the agreement, and 85 percent will be duty-free within five years. All remaining tariffs will be eliminated within 10 years, according to a release after the conclusion of talks this week.

The agreement also says that each country will have access to every other countries sectors, including but not limited to:

-- Telecommunications services 
-- Financial services, including banking, insurance and securities 
-- Distribution services, such as wholesaling, retailing and franchising 
-- Express delivery services 
-- Computer and related services 
-- Audiovisual and entertainment services 
-- Energy services 
-- Transport services 
-- Construction and engineering services 
-- Tourism 
-- Advertising services 
-- Professional services (architects, engineers, accountants, etc.) 
-- Environmental services

Given that Costa Rica wants to protect its Instituto Nacional de Seguros insurance company and its Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, it is hard to see how Trejos and Ms. González will be able to bring the country into the existing agreement.

Readers respond to the free trade situation
Costa Rica should be proud

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Congratulations to Costa Rica for not jumping into the Central American Free Trade Treaty! Having traveled extensively in Central America, I know that Costa Ricans enjoy a much higher standard of living and have a much better health care system and greater protection for natural resources than their neighbors. 

I hope some day to live in Costa Rica, so it is important to me to see that you do not "give away the store" to corporate interests and lose control of important resources and above all, the decision- making process that denotes democracy. 

I am afraid that we in the U.S. are losing our democracy. The Patriot Act and the Homeland Security mindset is really frightening. Peaceful protesters, journalists and observers were treated like enemy combatants by Miami police last month when they spoke out nonviolently against free trade agreements. Environmental laws in the US are being challenged under current free trade agreements, and you can bet that multinational corporations will do the same in Costa Rica if you sign on the dotted line. 

Under CAFTA's provisions, governments could be barred from setting limits on mining and logging activities in ecologically sensitive areas, and from requiring agribusinesses to use pesticides safely.

CAFTA also could increase food safety risks, essentially requiring food-importing countries to accept on faith the safety of fruit, vegetables and meat crossing their borders.

Free trade doesn't have to mean free lunch for multinational corporations. 

· A responsible trade policy would open up markets and protect the environment as opposed to exposing communities to new risks.

· Investor rules should ensure that global corporations have no greater rights than citizens have under Costa Rican law.

· New rights for businesses should be matched with enforceable responsibilities.

· Rules on trade in services should include meaningful exceptions for public interest laws. I'm sure I don't have to bring up the sad history of the countries which signed regarding American intervention in their internal affairs. Let's just say that Costa Ricans have a right to be proud of their independent mindset. 

Leslee McCarty 
Hillsboro, W. Va. 
Agree or Disagree?

We will publish your letters, too.

On free trade. On just about anything.

Just make sure you are not plowing the same ground as previous writers.



He questions U.S. motives 

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

With all due respect to the opinions of Beckie Spake concerning CAFTA, the reader should realize that the views expressed represent those of someone likely to profit from the treaty's implementation. In fact, there is no precedent to suggest that a free-trade agreement of the type promoted by the United States has ever benefited the average citizens of other countries.

A University of Florida study determined that such free-trade agreements dominate standing agreements on environmental issues and take priority over "good faith" agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Kyoto Protocol. It further notes that, unlike trade agreements, environmental agreements are not binding and can be found illegal by the World Trade organization if they infringe on the profits of corporations.

Historically, guarantees to international investors within the agreements have invariably resulted in low wage jobs, poor working conditions and the prohibition of the workers' rights to unionize. Mexico and North American Free Trade Agreement is a prime example.

The huge profits resulting from the elimination of tariffs often lead to the destruction of natural resources. The best example of this effect is in global forestry, where the increased demand for forest products has led to unsustainable logging practices in many parts of the world.

History also suggests that in an environment where profit is the sole motivation, market sectors that are unprofitable are generally ignored. Does anyone doubt that advances in telecommunications or high speed Internet access would suffer in rural areas of Costa Rica if under the control of profit-motivated international corporations, or that insurance would become more difficult to obtain, and even more costly, in less profitable markets?

Perhaps most relevant is a recent 300-page report published by a relatively new U.N. organization, UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme), detailing the deteriorating status of global urban conditions. 

Highlighting the phenomenal expansion of urban development in recent years, resulting in a dramatic increase in urban poverty, growing inequality and poor public services, the report squarely points the finger of blame at laissez-faire globalization. 

Specifically, the report targets, as summarized by columnist John Vidal of the DAWN News Group, "the tearing down of trade barriers, the liberalization and privatization of national economies, the structural adjustment programmes imposed on indebted countries by the IMF, and the lowering of tariffs promoted by the WTO." 

Noting that the benefits of globalization almost entirely go to relatively few entrepreneurs with little going to the poor, the report even suggests, in Vidal's words, that "some developing countries would have done better to stay out of the globalization process altogether if they had the interests of their own people in mind".

The issue of free trade is not nearly as simplistic as its supporters would have us believe. The success of free trade agreements depends on fairness and integrity on all sides. The United States government has never shown a legitimate concern for the welfare of its trading partners, and one has to question whether it is truly concerned with fairness or is driven solely by the self-interest of its business community. The evidence strongly suggests the latter, leading to a condition in which the weaker trading partner invariably suffers.

Steven A. Roman, Ph.D. 
Richmond, Texas

Religion freedom report criticizes some U.S. allies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The State Department's annual report on religious freedom was issued Thursday, and it includes strong criticism of a number of Asian and Middle Eastern countries, including regional U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The report, mandated by Congress, could lead to U.S. sanctions against serious violators. 

The massive report says there are problems in the respect for the freedom of worship in every part of the world, but says they are most acute in countries under authoritarian rule: North Korea, Burma, China, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba.

China was cited for trying to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations. The report said unregistered religious groups experienced varying degrees of official harassment, especially those determined by authorities to be cults, such as the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

At a briefing for reporters, John Hanford , the State Department's ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said Vietnam continued to put significant restrictions on unrecognized religious groups, though there has been some progress in neighboring Laos.  He said the world's worst repression of religious believers is probably in North Korea, though he said the Pyongyang government is "ruthlessly efficient" in barring access to outside observers. 

"We have so many reports of the problems there, including the execution of members of underground Christian churches, the torture and imprisonment of others, the fact that religious believers often experience the harshest behavior in prison," he said. "And we have people that have been able to get out of these situations and bring us these reports. And so we have received so many reports that we have felt it necessary to speak very strongly. And, of course, North Korea is one of our 'countries of particular concern,' one of our severe violators."

Under the act of Congress which mandates the annual report, states identified as "countries of particular concern" could face U.S. sanctions.

The most recent list of countries of concern, issued last March, includes China, Iran, Iraq, Burma, North Korea and Sudan. A new listing is expected soon, based on the findings of Thursday's report.

The report says flatly that freedom of religion "does not exist" in Saudi Arabia, where it says the government continues to enforce a strictly conservative version of Sunni Islam while suppressing other forms of Islam and non-Muslim religions.

Ambassador Hanford says Saudi Arabia has been on the verge of making the list of severe offenders of religious freedom, though he said U.S. officials are examining some recent conciliatory steps by Saudi authorities.

"Saudi Arabia has been very close to the threshold. In terms of restrictions of religious freedom, there are few countries that are more restrictive in terms of their laws," he said. "There are other countries that are much harsher in terms of the ways that they manifest their laws, in terms of arresting and torture and murdering people. The government of Saudi Arabia has begun to implement some measures to address this problem, and we will be in the process of trying to assess how far those are along before we make that final decision."

The report says there are many examples of government-supported Saudi clerics using violently anti-Jewish and anti-Christian language in sermons, though authorities have said they have replaced more than 2,000 imams for extremist preaching.

The document lists Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan among countries in which there is state hostility toward minority or non-approved religions. Others, including Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Israel and Eritrea, are cited for having discriminatory legislation or policies affecting certain religions. 

It also notes with concern a "disturbing increase" in anti-Semitism in several European countries.

There were no changes in the State Department’s assessment of Costa Rica as a country that specifies Roman Catholicism as the official religion. However, other religious groups generally exist in harmony, the report said.

One area of concern was the manner in which Roman Catholic clerics are permitted easy access to hospitals to comfort the sick and dying but this access does not extend to clergy of other faiths, said the report. Some efforts are being made in the Asamblea Nacional to rectify this inequity, the report said.

First hearing held on Internet gambling dispute
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A World Trade Organization panel set up at the request of Antigua and Barbuda concluded its first hearing this week of an Internet gambling dispute between the small Caribbean state and the United States.

Antigua and Barbuda successfully sought the establishment of the panel in the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization despite attempts by the United States to resist it.

"This has been a long up hill battle but we have overcome every obstacle so far," said Sir Ronald Sanders, the Caribbean states’ chief foreign affairs representative.  "These included, the U.S. attempt to stop the establishment of the panel, then its failure to agree with us on the composition of the panel, and finally its filing of a ‘no-case’ submission which was overturned by the panel."

Antigua and Barbuda claim that the United States is violating commitments it made in its schedule of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) by prohibiting the cross-border supply of gaming and betting services.

The United States says that it made no such commitment and rejects the Vienna Convention as an instrument for interpreting its international commitments under the GATS. This has encouraged the participation of Canada, the European Communities and Mexico in the dispute as third parties. They argue that the United States has clearly made the commitment and is subject to the Vienna Convention for the interpretation of its commitments.

In the panel hearing, Sanders argued that the United States is a huge market with a well established culture for gambling in several states and territories as well as casinos and betting operations, some of which use the Internet. He said, the denial by the United States of entry to its market from suppliers in Antigua "is simply protectionism, nothing more, nothing less."

The Antigua diplomat also declared, "The United States has undertaken considerable law enforcement efforts against Antiguan operators (including jailing one of them), yet no enforcement action whatsoever has been taken against its domestic operators, who must present a much easier law enforcement target, given their presence within the territory". 

At the conclusion of the hearing, the chairman of the three-person panel, B. K. Zutshi of India, said that the written answers to certain questions from the panel would be required by Jan. 9 and that the panel would have a further hearing with all the parties to the dispute Jan. 26 and 27. Other members of the panel are Richard Plender of the United Kingdom, and Virachai Plasai of Thailand.

Since the United States began passing laws prohibiting the supply of Internet gaming, the number of suppliers in Antigua has dropped from over 100 to less than 30 with a loss of revenue estimated at  $30 million and a further loss of hundreds of jobs, said the government. The United States considers Internet gambling illegal and has acted to prosecute operators, most of whom are offshore. The United States also seeks to cut off use of banking and credit cards for the payment of wagers.

Jo Stuart
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