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(506) 2223-1327               Published Monday, Dec. 21, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 251            E-mail us
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A crowd a reporter estimated at about 250 protested the selection of Ofelia Taitelbaum as the new defensora de los habitantes. The crowd marched Sunday to and from Plaza de la Democracia with cries of " Ofelia out!" The makeup was mainly members of Acción Ciudadana and Alianza Patrótica. The march halted traffic on Avenida Central, and marchers mixed with shoppers on the pedestrian mall.

marchers on AVenida Central
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New election code controls speech, maybe press
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new election code prohibits political advertising for 15 days around Christmas, and no one seems to be objecting to this unusual prohibition on speech.

Political speech generally is the most highly protected of all types of individual rights, but not in Costa Rica since Dec. 16,

The code, enforced by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, provides a stiff fine for what is called in Spanish propaganda electoral, either printed or on the Internet. Also prohibited are public meetings or displays by supporters.

National elections are Feb. 7, and political parties can resume their election ads after the first of the year.

Individuals organized a political rally Sunday opposing the naming of a new defensora de los habitantes. Flags and banners from at least three political parties were seen. Among these were Acción Ciudadana, Alianza Patrótica and Frente Amplio. But no party took credit for the gathering that included marches. Those who attended were not encouraged to vote, although candidates such as Rolando Araya did speak. The focus was on the election of Ofelia Taitelbaum as the new defensora. She had been a sitting legislator and is a member of the Partido Liberación Nacional. The legislative election Tuesday was highly partisan.

Opponents worry that Ms. Taitelbaum may not be aggressive toward the administration or as independent as the job demands. The office is a form of ombudsman. She was elected Tuesday, but because of the electoral censorship there are no published comments from established election candidates.

In fact, this form of electoral censorship would seem to favor the entrenched political organizations. Laura Chinchilla, the presidential candidate for Liberación Nacional, enjoys a strong lead in the polls, and it is unlikely that her position will change during the quiet period.
The censorship is sensitive because it covered the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Most Costa Ricans probably would prefer to spend time with families without worrying about the elections. Most candidates said they would attend small gatherings and spend time reviewing strategy or spending time with their families.

The election codes abrogation of political speech is accompanied by a possible attack on the press. The code says that all polling firms must be registered, but a firm from Honduras has done a telephone survey. Now the Tribunal de Elecciones wants to find out if the various news media have published the results of this poll.

The election code required companies that do polling to register with the tribunal within 15 days after the election date is fixed. Eight did. These are the established polling companies and the Universidad de Costa Rica.

The law established a fine for any company or individual who published or gives an account of any poll data that is not authorized. The goal, of course, is to prevent fraudulent reports favoring one candidate or another. But the new ground will be if the tribunal can fine or otherwise punish news outlets for repeating the findings of a poll result by an unregistered company.

The election code also prohibits disseminating any polling results within three days before the general election.

The new election code has not generated any constitutional court appeals that have been reported. There stands a chance that someone may file a complaint against the participants in the march Sunday. In which case a legal battle will follow.

In the meantime, Costa Ricans cannot receive official information, except for holiday greetings, from political parties. The election code, however, allows candidates to ride in the Tope Nacional Dec. 26 or, as one humorous election official put it, they can ride the bulls at the Zapote Christmas festival.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 251

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museum de jade site
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Sign marks proposed site for jade museum

Parking lot gives way
to clear land for museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A downtown parking lot is now closed and surrounded by chain link fence as officials move to redevelop all the land on the south side of Plaza de la Democracia.

The parking lot is expected to become part of the new Museo de Jade once the municipality can usher away the vendors who sell tourism items on a street that has been converted to a market.

The jade museum now is in the southwest corner of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building on Avenida 7. Only some 1,355 of the 5,256 pieces held by the museum are on display, said officials. The museum has had this location for three years.

The location is better than the 11th floor location that housed the museum earlier. Access for visitors always was a problem, and the museum has only been open during normal business hours. Five years ago a plan was floated to build an external elevator on the face of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros building so visitors could get to the museum at times when the entire building was not open. But then-president Abel Pacheco quickly shot down that plan for financial reasons.

The new facility is estimated to cost from $6 to $7 million. The outline of the plan was announced in February 2008.

The proposal for the new building would create a corridor of museums from the Museos del Banco Central under the Plaza de la Cultura to the Museo Nacional, which is in the old Bella Vista fortress east of Plaza de la Democracia.

The vendors are not going quietly. They have been protesting the municipal plan to relocate them to a structure south of Avenida 4. The vendors used to be much closer to the center of the downtown, but they were dislocated once before by municipal officials. However, they never got ownership of the land on which their small stalls are located.

The parking lot that has been closed was well known for downtown shoppers because it was not far from Más x Menos, the supermarket, and those with vehicles usually parked them there. The store provided carryout service to the lot.


Firemen, police, Cruz Roja
get an emergency toll lane


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court had ordered the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones to take immediate steps to open up an emergency lane at toll stations on the San José-Caldera highway. The lanes will be used by police, firemen and the Cruz Roja.

No one seems to have thought about the need for an emergency lane before the toll stations went into service under the operations of Autopista del Sol. Vehicles with sirens blaring and lights flashing have been held up at the toll stations.

The court also said that emergency vehicles do not have to pay tolls.  Héctor Ulises Chaves León, the director general of the  Cuerpo de Bomberos, filed one appeal after a fire truck en route to an emergency in San Antonio de Escazú had to wait in line at a toll station July 13. There were two other similar appeals.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 251

Body of English teacher found in shallow Caribbean grave
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Whoever murdered a Caribbean coast English teacher buried his body not far from where his car was dumped. The killer or killers made a mistake by not making sure that the man's car ended up in the Río la Estrella near  Penshurt.

Agents speculate that the killers tried to roll the vehicle into the river to hide it, but the raised bank halted the car's progress, and those responsible were unable to push the vehicle over the rise.

Agents found disturbed earth near the site and later the body of the man buried not far from the vehicle in a shallow grave.
The 31-year-old man appeared to have been stabbed in the neck, perhaps by someone to whom he gave a lift. He was traveling to Talamanca where he had given classes.

He was Alexander Obando Campos. His family reported him missing Tuesday, and that probably was the day he was killed. The car was not discovered until Thursday. Obando taught English at Limón branches of major Costa Rican universities as well as the school in BriBri de Talamanca.

Agents have not discarded the possibility that the man was killed by someone he knew. A laptop computer and a cell telephone were missing from the car, a Peugeot. The Judicial Investigating Organization issued a missing person appeal Thursday.


Costa Rican woman comes home as a world champion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country finally has an international sports champion.

She is Hanna Gabriel, the welterweight boxer who won the crown in that weight division Saturday. She was welcomed by friends and family Sunday afternoon at Juan Santamaría airport and put atop a double decker vehicle for a victory lap to downtown San José.

The woman is a fierce competitor and her opponent, Gabriela Zapata of Argentina, never had the advantage.
The referee stopped the fight in the fourth round, and the match goes in the books as a technical knockout. Ms. Gabriel landed a flurry of rights and lefts to the face and head of the Argentinean, who appeared groggy and unable to defend herself afterwards.

The fight was in Managua, Nicaragua. The World Boxing Organization title was open at 147 pounds. The woman lost seven pounds to compete in that category.

This is the first time that a Costa Rican woman has won a world championship in boxing.


Slight improvement reported in November for Costa Rican exports to world
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican exports are showing an improvement, although the 11 month totals still are lower than in 2008, according to the Promotora del Comercio Exterior.

Exports in November were up 2.8 percent over 2008, the organization said. Exports in the first 11 months of the year were $8 billion. That's 11 percent less than the exports in the first 11 months of 2008.
Industrial products, including medical devices, agriculture and fishery exports all were up in 2009, said Promotora del Comercio Exterior, which is known as PROCOMER.

Industrial exports totaled $6 billion, despite manufacturing and computer chips generating less exports than in 2008.

Some 38.6 percent of Costa Rican exports go to North America, and about 17 percent each go to Asia and Europe, based on the Janaury to November statistics 

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 251

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World leaders rush to defend fragile climate agreement

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

World leaders are defending the outcome of the U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen, despite the absence of any clear deals on emissions targets.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper the outcome is the first step toward a new world climate order, nothing more but also nothing less.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the accord is a positive step forward in recognizing different responsibilities between emerging and rich nations.  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the leaders took a wholehearted stance to save the earth and protect its children.

The Copenhagen accord was approved Saturday after marathon negotiations by the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The accord says greenhouse gases and other emissions by all nations must be reduced enough to prevent average
global temperatures — the key index of global warming — from rising more than two degrees Celsius.  However, it does not set specific emissions guidelines for achieving that goal.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that a lot of work is yet to be done.  But he hailed the compromise effort, saying it was a significant step forward in negotiations for the first truly global agreement on dealing with climate change.

China and the United States are the world's biggest contributors to global warming.  U.S. President Barack Obama called the accord a "breakthrough" in attempts to control global warming, but he said it still is "not enough."

Environmentalists and less-developed nations criticized parts of the Copenhagen accord and gave it only weak support.

The Copenhagen accord also commits rich nations to contribute $30 billion to a fund to help developing nations curb their emissions over the next three years.  They also set a goal of increasing funding up to $100 billion by 2020.



Brazilian custody case continues to drag on for Jersey boy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Brazil's Supreme Court has blocked return to the U.S. of a 9-year-old boy at the center of a high-profile international custody dispute.

The court Thursday granted a request by Sean Goldman's Brazilian relatives that the child remain in Brazil while it considers whether to hear testimony from him.

The decision came one day after a federal appeals court ruled that Sean must be handed over to his father, David Goldman, at the U.S. consulate in Rio de Janeiro, by Friday.

The high court decision Thursday came as David Goldman visited Rio, hoping to see the child, who has dual citizenship.  Goldman later said that he was disappointed in the latest ruling. News reports say that because the court will soon go into recess, the case is likely to be delayed until February.

Goldman has been fighting for custody since 2004, when Goldman's then-wife, Bruna Bianchi, took the boy to Brazil for what she said was a vacation in her country. 
Bianchi divorced the boy's father in Brazil and married a prominent lawyer, but died in childbirth last year.  The stepfather refuses to return Sean to his biological father.

The case reached the highest levels of the U.S. government earlier this year, during a private meeting at the White House in March between President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio da Silva. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also lobbied for the boy's return to the United States.

Latin countries, including Costa Rica, frequently disregard international treaties on custody and adoption. And they are not anxious to allow their citizens, even those with dual citizenship, to leave the country.

A congressman from David Goldman's home state of New Jersey, Rep. Chris Smith, also called for the suspension of Brazil's trade preferences until the international custody battle is resolved.

Smith traveled to Brazil with Goldman Thursday and voiced disappointment in the latest decision as well.  But Smith said he hoped the matter might be resolved in the coming days.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 251

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Obama wrestles with goal
of improving ties with Cuba


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Already President Obama has ended travel limits on Cuban-Americans and called for new talks between the nations, but Havana says Washington is not going far enough.

Obama has been under pressure to recast the nation's relations with Cuba and ease decades of restrictions on the Communist government.

As many people make plans to visit family for the holidays, Cuban-Americans are hoping to take advantage of new rules that ease travel to the island. Earlier this year, Obama reversed a 2002 rule that limited how often Cuban-Americans could visit relatives or send remittances to the island. Supporters of the rule say fewer travelers meant less U.S. money was getting to the Cuban government, but critics say the rule simply kept families apart.

Since the change, travel agents say activity is up and some charter companies have added more flights to accommodate the flood of Cuban-Americans making trips back to the island.

In Miami, Alvaro Fernandez advocated against the U.S. travel restrictions for years. He was one of the first to take advantage of the new rules and return to Cuba earlier this year, and he says many other Cuban-Americans are doing the same.

"This time of the year is when people travel," he explained.  "It's a family thing, they want to spend the end of the year together. So now with travel easier, more people are going."

At the same time, the Obama administration has been reaching out to the Cuban government to end decades of isolation and mutual distrust. Officials met in September to discuss renewing direct mail. They also plan to reopen talks on migration issues, which were canceled by former president George W. Bush in 2003.

Officials on both sides say it will take numerous efforts and a prolonged commitment to bring together the former Cold War foes.

Washington has enforced the embargo for nearly 50 years, in part to press the Communist nation to move toward democratization and greater respect for human rights. Some U.S. leaders say the hard-line stance has clearly failed to achieve the goal.

Now, lawmakers are working on a bill that would enable all Americans to travel to Cuba, not just Cuban-Americans. Supporters of the House measure say one of the best ways to spur democratic change in Cuba is through direct contact with Americans visiting the island.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst for the Lexington Institute near Washington, says the bill has a good chance of winning approval early next year. "They got 180 co-sponsors of this bill to end all the travel restrictions, so that certainly puts them in striking distance," he said.

Critics of the proposal say it could have the opposite effect in Cuba, and actually empower the repressive government. Cuba's government controls all major economic sectors on the island, so critics say an increase in tourist activity would increase the flow of government revenue.

At a recent congressional hearing, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen attacked the travel proposal, saying scores of other foreign visitors have had little impact inside Cuba.

"European visitors, visitors from Mexico. Canada sends so many visitors to Cuba. What has the Cuban regime done? Has it unclenched its fist? Did I miss that?" she asked.

Critics of Havana also point to recent events on the island as evidence that Cuban officials have no desire to release political prisoners or stop violent crackdowns on dissidents. Popular Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez claims that plainclothes officers beat her on the way to a recent protest. Authorities also detained several dissidents during a march to celebrate Human Rights Day in December.


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Chávez say Dutch helping
U.S. aggression against him


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Dutch government says it has asked Venezuela's ambassador to clarify remarks by President Hugo Chávez accusing The Netherlands of planning aggression against Venezuela.

The comment Friday comes one day after President Chávez said The Netherlands was allowing the United States to use Dutch islands off Venezuela's Caribbean coast for a possible military attack against his country.

The Venezuelan leader provided no evidence to support his allegations, and State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the allegations were baseless.

“I am accusing the Kingdom of the Netherlands together with the Yankee empire of preparing a military aggression against Venezuela,” said Chávez in Copenhagen where he came to participate in the U.N. International Conference on Climate Change.

“The islands of Aruba and Curacao, both of which belong to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, have permitted the installation of United States military equipment on their soil, placing Venezuela under the watch of the United States,” Chávez said. “It would be good for Europe to know that the North American empire is arming these islands Aruba and Curacao to the teeth, filling them with war planes, war ships, and CIA spies.”

“Since the Kingdom of The Netherlands is a member of the European Union, I would like to see what the European Union has to say about this,” Chávez said.

The United States has long had a military presence on the self-governing Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao, with staff involved in counternarcotics and surveillance operations over the Caribbean.

Separately, Venezuela and Colombia have been at odds over an agreement allowing the U.S. to use seven Colombian military bases for anti-drug operations. Chávez has called the deal a threat to his country, but the U.S. and Colombia say the agreement does not pertain to other nations.

Sunday Chávez accused both Colombia and the United States of invading his country's air space with unmanned drones.





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