A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 251          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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There really is
a rail line here

Here is where the rail line vanishes under piles of trash and dirt in Tibás.

However, the rails could be in good order underneath the mess.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Rail route to Heredia needs a major facelift
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To get the rail line working from San José to Santa Bárbara de Heredia, officials first need to clear mountains of trash. Then there are the tight squeezes through houses. And then there is the guy with the gun.

That's the impression reporters got last week as they walked from Barrio Aranjuez to Tibás over the line the transport minister wants to put into service by May.

Officials and workers will have to hustle if they hope to finish by then.  Randall Quirós Bustamante, the current minister, is the man who set the self-imposed deadline, which is when the Pacheco administration leaves office.

The ministry is getting a little help to clean up the route. Today, officials from the train agency, the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, are expected to announce an agreement that will do that.  A loan from Taiwan is expected to finance the effort.  The overall project of expanding the lines is the result of a 640,000-euro donation from the European Economic Community.

The commuter train now runs from Pavas to the Universidad Latina in San Pedro. Service started Oct. 7 after a lapse of some 10 years. However, those tracks were in good condition and had been used by freight trains. The route to Heredia will require more repair.

In October, Quirós, the public works minister, as well as Carlos Manuel Rodríguez,  environmental minister, unveiled a plan for passenger train routes between Pavas and San Antonio de Belén, the rail yard at the former Estación al Atlantico and Tibás, Tibás and Heredia and another route between the Universidad Latina and Tres Ríos.  Officials also hoped to add another route between San José and Cartago but didn't make anything specific. 

A walk along part of the proposed route between Tibás and Heredia showed that no work has started.  Marilyn Vargas Kith, a resident along the line in Guadalupe said that she has not heard of anyone from the train
agency or the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes coming along the route to talk with residents. 

Along much of the route, residents had relegated the right-of-way to a trash bin and some persons had erected shaky lean-tos as homes against sturdier industrial structures.  Once in Tibás, the route was almost completely overgrown and finally, not even passable on foot — let alone train.  On the Tibás side of the bridge over the Autopista Braulio Carrillo that connects that town with Calle Blancos, a man sat smoking a cigarette.  A revolver lay on the ground nearby.  He appeared to be guarding a nearby dwelling.

In one place, the right-of-way is being used as a driveway for residents landlocked along the route. Dirt and rocks have been heaped on the rails. But the rails themselves appear to be intact.

Ms. Vargas said that although no one from the agencies involved had been along to talk with her, she was happy to hear of the proposed plan.  No train had passed in more than 10 years, she said and although persons had begun building dangerously close to the rail and children regularly play on it, she was looking forward to the reopening.    

The existing line runs north between Hospital Calderón Guardia and the Parque Zoológico Símon Bolivar.  And then it crosses a bridge over the Río Torres. In a short distance the rail line passes under the main highway from Barrio Tournon to Guadalupe. This is Goicoechea.

From the roadway to the Autopista Braulio Carrillo, almost a kilometer, the line passes through a densely populated low-income neighborhood where the right-of-way is a major access and walkway.

Another 500 meters and the line enters Tibás where it is blocked totally between two industrial buildings.

Officials probably will provide commuter service from northeast Heredia to the Atlantic station near Parque Nacional. From there, commuters can catch the east-west service.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 251

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'Canadian pharmaceuticals'
not always from Canada

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of four countries where Internet merchants are playing bait and switch with mail-order medicines, and some of the shipments checked contained counterfeit products, the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration said.

The other three countries are India, Israel and Vanuatu, said the agency, known as the FDA.

An FDA operation found that nearly half of the imported drugs intercepted from the four selected countries were shipped to fill orders that consumers believed they were placing with "Canadian" pharmacies. Of the drugs being promoted as "Canadian," based on accompanying documentation, 85 percent actually came from 27 countries around the globe.

“This operation suggests that drugs ordered from so-called ‘Canadian’ Internet sites are not drugs of known safety and efficacy,” said Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, acting FDA commissioner. “These results make clear there are Internet sites that claim to be "Canadian" that, in fact, are peddling drugs of dubious origin, safety, and efficacy. We believe that these ‘bait and switch’ tactics — offering patients one thing and then giving them something else — are misleading to patients and potentially harmful to the public health.”

FDA conducted its operation, named “Operation Bait and Switch,” over a few days in August 2005 at JFK Airport in New York City, Miami International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. FDA examined all mail parcels suspected of containing pharmaceuticals sent from the four countries that the FDA had previously noticed were sources of drugs apparently ordered from pharmacies alleged to be Canadian in origin. Out of nearly 4,000 parcels examined, almost 1,700 or about 43 percent had been ordered from “Canadian” Internet pharmacies and were represented as being of Canadian origin.

However, only 15 percent of the “Canadian” drugs in the parcels examined actually originated in Canada. The remaining 85 percent were manufactured in 27 different countries. In addition to having been falsely promoted as being of Canadian origin, many of these drugs were not adequately labeled in English to help assure safe and effective use.

Thirty two of the pharmaceuticals sampled, representing three distinct drug products, have been determined to be counterfeit. The FDA said it is working closely with the Canadian drug regulatory and law enforcement authorities on this matter.

The FDA said will take appropriate action to keep these counterfeit products out of the U.S. drug supply and pursue actions against those responsible for attempting to defraud the American public.

U.S. giving computers
to fight exploitation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United Sates government is donating $95,000 in computer equipment, in part to further the fight against sexual exploitation of children here.

Special investigative equipment and computers worth $23,000 are earmarked by the Ministerio Pública, the prosecuting arm of the judiciary, said an announcement from the U.S. Embassy here.

The rest of the money will go for equipment for the  Escuela Judicial, the Academia de Policía and the Fuerza Pública, said a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

The formal presentation will be Wednesday when U.S. Ambassador Mark Langdale meets with Dr. Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

The U.S. government supported a special investigative unit at the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Públicas with an initial grant of $250,000, and the British government made $9,000 in donations for the purchase of computers and video cameras.

However, due to a turf war with the judiciary's Judicial Investigating Organization, the special investigative unit has been downgraded and prohibited from doing investigations.

Computers purchased with those earlier donations were used to track pedophiles and to maintain surveilance of online predators, officials said.

Press group warns
of trend to secrecy

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — Citing bills under discussion in Honduras and Paraguay which may contradict freedom of expression principles, the Inter-American Press Association warned of a backslide in matters of access to public information and pointed to recently approved intelligence legislation in Peru that guts a previous law on public transparency.

On the other hand, the organization praised the positive regional trend towards changing the “secretive culture of the state” for a more open position on access to public information to the benefit of all citizens.  At this time countries that have access laws are: Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panamá, Perú and the Dominican Republic.

The Inter-American Press Association also cautioned that new proposals should establish international standards of openness, transparency and freedom of expression and uphold the principles of the Declaration of Chapuletpec, a document that was drafted in 1994 and since then used by the organization to promote free access to public information.  The document’s Art. 3 declares: “The authorities must be compelled by law to make available in a timely and reasonable manner the information generated by the public sector.”

Following the lead of the Peruvian Press Council, the Inter-American Press Association urged Peruvian lawmakers to modify the shortcomings in the National Intelligence System Law approved by Congress. By adding new categories and timelines in the name of national security for classified information, the organization considers this new intelligence law poses a serious threat to the creation of government transparency that was the purpose of the 2002 law.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 251

U.S. will implement trade pact with rolling admission
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States is prepared to implement, as soon as possible, its recently ratified free-trade agreement with the Dominican Republic and the nations of Central America once those countries "have taken sufficient steps to complete their commitments" under the terms of the trade pact, says Christin Baker, spokesperson of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

In a statement issued Monday, Baker said that the United States would like the trade pact "to start as close as possible to January 1, 2006, so that U.S. and regional businesses can begin taking advantage" of its benefits "in the shortest possible time."

The trade agreement stipulates that the signatory countries are obligated to adopt and enforce new laws that protect workers' rights and the environment, as a condition for preferential access to U.S. and regional markets.  "The United States is prepared to have the
CAFTA-DR enter into force as early as January 1, but

 only with countries that have made sufficient progress in adopting new laws and regulations where necessary," Baker said.  "We will move forward as long as at least one country is prepared, and will accommodate new entrants as they become ready."

Meanwhile, "countries can continue to enjoy existing [trade] preferences while they work with the United States to come on board" as full partners in th pact, Baker added.

With the exception of Costa Rica, all of the countries are working to complete the implementation process as soon as possible. Under the "rolling admissions" process, entry into force would occur on the first day of the month with a country that the trade representative determines is ready by the middle of the preceding month. The intervening time will allow for a presidential proclamation to be prepared.

The trade pact covers the second-largest U.S. export market in Latin America, behind only Mexico, buying more than $16 billion in U.S. exports.

He's a believer
in free trade

Rubén Hinojosa, a Texas Democrat, tells Costa Rican lawmakers that he is one of 11 sons of Mexican parents who came to the United States 100 years ago and that his district has profited from the North American Free Trade Agreement and cut unemployment from 22 to 8 percent over 12 years.

Other congressmen await their turn to pitch the free trade treaty.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Congressmen here campaigning for free trade OK
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. congressmen visited Costa Rican legislators Monday and pretty well said what was expected:

- there is little chance of renegotiating the free trade treaty with the United States and other Latin American countries;

- The treaty is much better for Costa Rica than the current Caribbean Basin Initiative which can be eliminated at any time, and

- Costa Rica better approve the pact as soon as possible.

"Short-term pain for long-term gain" is how New York Democrat Gregory Meeks described approval of the treaty. He said he recognized that some businesses would suffer. However, he also said that Caribbean countries are anxious to become part of a similar treaty.

Meeks and his colleagues from the U.S. House were meeting with the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Internacionales y Comercio Exterior of the Asamblea Legislative. That's the body that must either reject or approve the treaty prior to any action by the full assembly. All the congressmen visiting Monday eventually voted for the free trade treaty when it came to the floor in the House. The vote was tight,  217 to 215.
The visitors told the Costa Rican lawmakers that they had anguished over many of the same questions facing the Ticos when they had to vote.

U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa and Solomón Ortiz, both Texas Democrats, said that unemployment in their districts had dropped after the North American Free Trade Agreement had been passed. Both speak Spanish and met individually with deputies and reporters.

Juan José Vargas Fallas, an assembly deputy who is a candidate for president for the Partido Patria Primero, said the public has much ignorance and great division over the treaty. He said that there was no transparency in the negotiations and suggested shelving the treaty might be necessary to maintain the social peace in the country.

Others, such as Federico Malavassi Calvo of the Movimiento Libertario, said his party was content with the treaty.

Congressmen said they had other countries to visit on a trip that would not bring them home until Friday.

In addition to Costa Rica, the free trade agreement covers the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.

All but Costa Rica has ratified the pact, and it goes into effect Jan. 1.

A.M. Costa Rica

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You need to fill this space ASAP!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 251

Is nothing sacred? Beer becoming an uptown drink
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Every now and then, a friend or co-worker might say to you, Let's go grab a beer. A beer — that plebian brew that accounts for a little over half the alcoholic beverage sales in America.

You don't grab a glass of wine or a frozen margarita. But beer is so ordinary, you think nothing of crushing the can after you've drunk one, or breaking the bottle in the trash. Chardonnays and dry Martinis have cachet. Even bottled water has become an elegant drink. But a beer is just a beer.

Brewers spend billions of dollars on advertising. All it does is pull customers from one brand to another, while beer's overall share of the alcoholic-beverage market keeps sliding.

So to fight trendier liquors and wines, some beer is going upscale and affecting a sort of sex appeal. Brewing companies are packaging beers in royal-blue bottles, sleek cans with artsy designs, and even aluminum bottles, strange as this custom may seem.
Just about every brewer now offers an elite-sounding signature beer, like Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser Select. It's good-old Budweiser — the world's best-selling brand — that's been fancified and given a heftier taste.

Other companies are combining ordinary beer with wildly popular, caffeinated energy drinks that mellow you out and pep you up, all at once.

The most outlandish example of extreme beers — as highbrow beers are being called — is a Samuel Adams brand called Utopia.

It comes in a real copper decanter and is said to taste like cognac smells. A single decanter sells for $100!

Other stylish beers aren't that pricey, but they're expensive enough that average American beer drinkers aren't buying them by the caseload.

And Americans are also becoming a little more careful, when a friend invites them out to grab a beer, to know which beer, and who's buying.

Morales appears to have won more than 50 percent of Bolivian votes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Socialist Bolivian presidential candidate Evo Morales appears to have won 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's election.

Morales' rivals, including conservative Jorge Quiroga, have already conceded defeat. 

Morales spoke before a large crowd of cheering supporters in the town of Cochabamba, his political stronghold, saying a new history of Bolivia has begun.

The first official returns are expected later Monday.  If Morales fails to win half the vote, Bolivia's Congress will choose the next president from the top two finishers.

Morales, 46, has vowed to reverse the U.S.-backed campaign to eradicate coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, but also used by Bolivia's Indians as a traditional medicine. 

Morales also wants to increase government control over Bolivia's natural gas resources.

Ueberroth asks that U.S. ban on Cuban baseball players be reversed
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth is calling on the U.S. government to reverse a decision to deny Cuba's national baseball team permission to play in the United States.

Last week, the Treasury Department denied a permit for Cuba to play in the inaugural 16-team World Baseball Classic in March. Ueberroth says the decision
will damage American efforts to host the Olympics in the future. Olympic host countries must guarantee all nations can participate.

Cuba had been set to play against Puerto Rico, Panamá and the Netherlands in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in the first round. A permit from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control is necessary because of U.S. laws governing certain commercial transactions with the Communist island.

Jo Stuart
About us

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