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(506) 223-1327      Published Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 42            E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Benjamín Mayorga Mora, the principal spokesman, and a group of native Costa Ricans at their camp site outside the Corte Suprema building.
Native Costa Ricans at court
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Costa Rica gets its extension on free trade treaty
By Elise Sonray
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The long-running soap opera that is the free trade treaty got longer Wednesday. Both President Óscar Arias Sánchez and the U.S. trade representative said that the country had been given a seven-month extension on approval of the legal changes that will bring the pact into force.

The extension was made necessary by legislative delays set up by opponents of the measure, not the least of which was in pressuring Arias to agree to call a referendum. That vote Oct 7 resulted in citizens narrowly approving the treaty.

The announcement by Arias came in the afternoon. He said he had discussed the need for an extension with leaders of the five other countries that are signers of the treaty. Costa Rican officials had been in Washington, D.C., for several days getting the same approval from the United States.

Susan C. Schwab, the U.S. trade representative, said in Washington that her country was ready to give Costa Rica the time it needed to pass the implementation laws.

Costa Rica and the other countries signed the pact Aug. 5, 2004. There was a time limit on approving the treaty and also in passing the implementation laws. That deadline had been Feb. 29, Friday. The pact is in force in all the other countries.

Opponents of the treaty first promised a street war if the treaty were presented to the Asamblea Legislativa. Then-president Abel Pacheco stalled for months fearing civil unrest.

Óscar Arias made it clear in his presidential campaign that he supported the treaty. He was elected in early 2006 by a small margin. His chief opponent was Ottón Solís, head of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, who seeks to have the treaty renegotiated.

After Arias sent the treaty to the legislature, where the government and allies hold a two-thirds majority, opponents embarked on delay tactics.

The treaty still divides the country, even as the legislature handles 12 measures that would fully implement the agreement.

Many in the business community, typified by the Unión de Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, are urging full approval. The chamber said Wednesday that if the treaty does not go into effect thousands of jobs are at risk. The organization urged lawmakers to pass the implementation legislation rapidly despite the extension.
Opponents have picked out two measures related to agriculture as targets for major protests. A group of native Costa Ricans were in front of the Corte Suprema de Justicia building Wednesday and overnight expressing their opposition.

“I will stay here as long as it takes,” said a farmer named Camilo De Gracia Santa. De Gracia stood
with his young daughter reading the long paper people were signing. On it people wrote things like “you can't patent life,” and “Thieves sell themselves. The people don't sell themselves.”

The object of the protest were companion measures. One would ratify the Treaty of Budapest in Costa Rica. The country already has signed the treaty but legislaive approval is needed. The treaty establishes a number of depositories around the world where those who create new organisms can put them as proof for the patent process.

The other measure would protect new varieties of plants. The measure is straightforward: Anyone who develops a new variety of plant is given the rights to market it for 20 years. The term is 25 years if the plant is a perennial. There are some exceptions for others doing research and small and mid-size farms. The penalty for violation is a jail term.

The protesters said they would present a document to the constitutional court today. An effort has been under way for several weeks to get enough signatures for a refereundum on the measure.

The Sala IV already has voted that the so-called veggie law does not contain constitutional flaws and that the way it was passed, via a legislative fast track, was legal. That decision came Friday and was reported Wednesday by the Poder Judicial.

At the protest Wednesday some women sewed clothing or made earrings to sell as they sat in the shade of their tents. Others listened to speakers or chatted about the coming day. “We have the right to be here,” said Marcela Andrade, 40. As she held her baby, Ms. Andrade said that this was an important fight for the children as well.

“They want to sell the blood of our people” said, Benjamín Mayorga Mora, one of the principal and most famous leaders in the indigenous community. “The white man wants to sell the tree, mountain and river, those same things we want to share with each other.” Mayorga, a Bribri Indian and former professional soccer player, explained that the rocks and trees are the blood of the people as is all of nature. “They want to take plants to a lab and sell them as medicine, and they won't give any of that money to us.” Mayorga said that for his people seed is sacred. “The mountain is our pharmacy,” he said.

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Tamarindo seeking $20,000
for its environmental study

By Helen Thompson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tamarindo's zoning plan is almost finished, but proponents lack around $20,000 to pay for the environmental study that will allow it to go ahead to approval.

Developers will soon be banned from constructing high-rise buildings on whatever piece of land takes their fancy in the beachfront town that suffers from dramatic over-construction.

“Many people have realized that there are no rules in Tamarindo,” said Federico Amador, director of Asociación Pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo. “People wake up to find that someone is building a five-story condominium in their garden. They lose their view, have problems with access and water, and there is nothing they can legally do about it. This plan will give the community a clear set of rules that states how many construction projects can go ahead and where.”

Another few months are needed before the money is raised and the environmental impact study is carried out. The study will assess the fragility of the ecosystem in and around Tamarindo, which is situated near Parque Nacional las Baulas, a prime nesting site for leatherback turtles. Asociación Pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo is raising and collecting money to pay for the study.

The plan regulador is being elaborated by the Instituto Nacional de Viviendo y Urbanismo. In March, President Óscar Arias Sánchez is expected to sign a decree that will put similar controls into immediate effect to prevent out-of-control development on Costa Rica's Pacific coast in the months leading up to the approval of the zoning plan.

Amador said that the plan will not mean that buildings will be torn down. A long-running establishment in the town called Cabinas Dolly was destroyed Jan. 30, but this was under the maritime zone plan. The maritime law states that construction must not take place within the first 50 meters of land from the mean high tide mark, as this strip is considered public land.

In November 2007, the Municipalidad de Santa Cruz was given a year to enforce the maritime law within its boundaries. This means that all constructions whose owners cannot prove that they were built before the 1977 law, and remain in the hands of the original owner, will be demolished. The effects of this are currently being seen in the town of Mato Palo, in the Municipalidad de Aguirre.

Instead, the plan regulador will regulate future construction rather than removing past mistakes.

Curridabat to present
outdoor film festival

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first local outdoor Costa Rican Film Festival begins Saturday in Curridabat. The first full-length movie will be "Elvira," a 1955 film.

An artificial beach has been created in Curridabat's park for viewers to use while various Costa Rican films are presented.  A goal of the municipality is to encourage families to enjoy the summer nights and bring people into the center of the community.

Edgar Mora, the mayor of Curridabat, says that winter is not an obstacle to enjoying film and that municipal officials are searching for a place to let the people of Curridabat enjoy cinema all year long.

The Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud and its Centro de Cine are at work to ensure quality sound and image display during the projections of Costa Rican films such as “Marasmo,” “Caribe,” “Asesinato en el Meneo,” “Eulalia,” “Cuatro Rosas,” “Mujeres Apasionadas,” and “Nuestra Señora.”

Short films made by students at the University of Costa Rica and Véritas will be shown before each feature film.

Purdy Motors subsidiary
will run Midas franchise

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Midas, Inc., has signed an exclusive franchise agreement with Talleres Rapidos Centramericanos TRC, S.A. a subsidiary of Purdy Motor S.A. to build and operate Midas shops in Costa Rica.

Purdy, founded in San Jose, Costa Rica, in 1957, is the fourth oldest Toyota distributorship in the world. It employs more than 500 people in 12 sales outlets and parts distribution centers in Costa Rica.

Purdy will initially build five Midas shops, with the first outlet in San Jose expected to open later this year, said a news release.

Costa Rica will be the 19th country with Midas shops and the second in Central America.

Democrats correct overseas primary data

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Democrats Abroad issued a correction this week saying global primary results for the U. S. presidential election had been misstated.  The numbers of delegates awarded each candidate have changed.  With the corrected information, Barack Obama was issued three delegate votes and Hillary Clinton won one and a half delegate votes, the organization said.

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Our readers' opinions on crime situation
10 steps government could take right now to cut crime

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Oh, great! Don Óscar, et. al., believe that the best way to fight crime is to TALK about it some more by setting up a commission. Governments call for commissions/committees so they look like they're doing something, when in fact they don't want to take the steps they already know they have to take to solve the problem at hand.

Commissions of this sort usually take an inordinate amount of time to state the obvious, and/or disintegrate into rancorous, partisan blame-gaming while the problems they're supposed to address only get worse.

Here is a list of 10 no-brainer actions the government could take immediately that would actually have a substantive impact on crime.

(1.) Censure/remove judges who release violent criminals on their own recognizance.

(2.) Dump the ridiculous, $18,000,000 surveillance camera plan for downtown San José and use the money to enhance the law enforcement community's ability to do their jobs by giving them the basic equipment they now lack all over the country.

(3.) Institute a three-strikes law for violent criminals with the third strike bringing an automatic life-without-parole sentence.

(4.) Institute a community service plan for young offenders that would keep them too busy to get into trouble.

(5.) Put in place sentence enhancements for gang activity/organized crime activity like the Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in the U. S.

(6.) Hand down enhanced sentences for crimes committed by police. They should pay a higher price than a "common" criminal.

(7.) Crime reporting and investigation should be made mandatory in burglary cases, regardless of the dollar amount involved. Most importantly, TAKE FINGERPRINTS and enhance the government's fingerprint data base.

(8.) Give stiff penalties to illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes or are involved in drug trafficking/gang activity, then deport them after they've served their time. If they enter the country illegally again and commit violent crimes, that should represent strikes two and three of the three-strikes law.

(9.) Across the board 25 percent sentence increase for all crimes.

(10.) Since China is Costa Rica's new best buddy, Don Óscar should seek a VERY large grant to pay for all of the above.

Talk's cheap. Costa Rica is paying an IMMENSE price in lost investment and tourism dollars through its continued inaction and denial. Only immediate action can begin to turn the tide against criminals.

If any of the above turn out to be bad ideas after implementation, THEN form a commission to talk about what needs to be changed.
Dean Barbour 
Manuel Antonio

Time has come for the administration to get its hands dirty
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

All law abiding citizens are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of guns in Costa Rican society. At the same time they are arming themselves. The notion, now a likelihood, of a violent confrontation in which one may have to harm or kill a violent criminal in self defense is horrifying, but self preservation and the defense of one's family is the bottom line.

It's painfully clear that the law, law enforcement officials and the courts are incapable of saving their lives or preventing the loss of more lives. Blaming law abiding citizens for having to shoulder this monumental responsibility, that should be the responsibility of their government, is a gross misplacement of blame.

While the administration struggles to pinpoint the underlying causes of the current crime wave, which it must, it's wasting valuable time. In this case, there is only one way to harness and halt the criminal anarchy that is now the ruling party.

Study, research and socioeconomic proposals will by sheer necessity have to be the second step in creating a culture of law and order. The first step must be a decisive, unambiguous and totally committed administrative effort to establish law and order. It will have to put its philosophical
and idealistic stance aside for now and get its hands dirty.  It will have to face reality.

The reality is that human nature is messy. It's not all about peace and love of your fellow man. In reality the absence of law and order promotes socially unacceptable and criminal behavior. There are people in every society who by nature are weak and unable or unwilling to live within acceptable norms.

The majority of people are willing and able to do so, however in the absence of law and order as a deterrent, they will compromise and ultimately disregard their moral compass. The moral fiber of a society thus degenerates and rots from within.

If this administration is committed to being humane and proving its compassion for its people, it will stop wasting time and set its moral compass on a direct course whose destination is law and order. In so doing it will endure heavy weather, but the captain of the ship must be totally commited to steering its crew and passengers to safety. At present, those on board have realized that they're on a sinking ship and cannot be blamed for saving themselves. That, too, is human nature.
Pamela Ellsworth
Nicoya Peninsula

Get a revolver, this non-violent reader says with regrets
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

President Arias laments the increased rise in sale of firearms as good citizens of this country arm themselves against an even greater rise in crime. What in the world does he expect them to do? The government doesn't protect them.

When living and working behind barricaded doors and windows, buying sophisticated car and house alarms, paying for expensive guard services, popping Valiums as you walk to the bus stop at night or drive across the city in your windows up and doors locked car, hoping to get safely into your house before someone with a gun steals your car, still doesn't provide any sense of security. 

Knowing a call to the cops will not result in a criminal being taken off the street, what does Mr. President expect you to do in order not to become a victim, not leave your house? That doesn't work either. How many homes have been violently broken into with the owners inside? A lot.

Can anyone be surprised at the increase in vigilante justice?  When the neighbors beat the living crap out of well-known and many-times-arrested local thief, they do so, not because they want to, but because they have to, for the government can't — won't — protect these honest citizens of the
community. Therefore, they have to protect themselves, with firearms, if necessary. In all fairness, maybe, just maybe, the government has finally come to the realization that crime has gotten out of control, and it's high time to seriously endeavor to attack the problem, which seems like what they are attempting to do with the special commission being appointed.

Let's hope and pray some success is forthcoming. In the meantime, which could be years, take a course in firearms handling, and get yourself a revolver, not a semi-automatic pistol. Those devices go off too easily. No shotguns or rifles — they are unwieldy.

I regret having to make such a recommendation, for I am really a non-violent person, and would love to use "safe" and "peaceful" as the words that describe this country, but I can't, and neither can anyone else.

So what remains? Yeah, you're right, go out on only Sunday mornings, put a stronger lock on the door, double the Valium dose, get a baseball bat or a can of Mace, or form a neighborhood watch group.

Robert Nahrgang

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Russian plan for a San José casino has officials nervous
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials are nervous because the largest Russian casino operator has eyes for San José, The company, Storm International, said in a new release that it is planning to complete the re-construction of a four-star hotel and introduce a casino in July this year together with local partners.

Storm International said it is diversifying and opening casinos overseas because of restrictive laws being passed in the Russian Republic that require the firm to put casinos in geographic zones.

Costa Rica has a loose and ill-enforced casino law despite several efforts to pass a new measure in the legislature.

The $5 million project will include a 60-room hotel, including a casino, several bars and restaurants, Storm International said, adding that the planned area of the property is about 3,500 square meters. There is also a plan to purchase a building adjacent to the existing hotel in order to provide additional facilities including a multi-level parking facility, the news release said.

Storm International said that the casino would be run to the
highest standards and that the majority of similar properties in the country do not meet high requirements from the perspective of security and quality of service.

The casino is planned to have 10 gaming tables and 170 slot machines with the option of expanding as business increases.

The management team will all be from Storm International, with the usual mix of nationalities, including top Russian management personnel, said the firm. All personnel either speak or have taken courses in Spanish, it said.

There was no indication which existing hotel would be the site for the new casino.

Costa Rican officials are nervous because Russian gambling operations and many other businesses are infliuenced by ex-KGB officials who are ruthless in business and related criminal activities. The major illegal Russian presence in the country now are several trafficking rings that bring in Russian and eastern European prostitutes to cater to the sex tourism trade. Handlers murdered one such prostitute near Jacó two years ago because she violated work rules, investigators believe.

U.S. Federal Reserve chief says nation's economy is slowing
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke told a congressional committee Wednesday that the U.S. economy is weak. He signaled further interest rate cuts to help the increasingly wobbly economic outlook.

With average home prices down over 8 percent in 2007, legislators are particularly worried about current economic trends.

"Wholesale inflation is soaring, consumer confidence is falling, and home foreclosures are spiking and prices falling sharply," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents a district in New York City.

Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee he is more worried about the slowing economy than rising inflation. He suggested that home prices are likely to fall further. Tight credit conditions have added to the home price decline, and Bernanke said the credit markets are still not functioning properly.

"Credit conditions in the financial market are creating some restraint on growth," said Bernanke. "And slower growth is in turn concerning the financial markets because it may mean that credit quality may be declining."

The Federal Reserve is predicting economic growth of 2
percent or less this year, a significant decline from the 3 percent growth in 2007. Bernanke hinted at more cuts, saying the Fed will act as needed to prop up the economy.

Lacy Clay, a congressman from St. Louis in the industrial Midwest, asked Bernanke what the government will do to help families in danger of losing their homes.

"The repercussions of the housing crisis are beginning to be catastrophic," he said. "As a result of these factors, we have many families that are working more hours for less money."

Other members were concerned about record high oil prices and the weakening dollar, which Wednesday touched a record low of $1.51 against the euro. Despite dollar weakness, Bernanke said there is no evidence that foreign holders of dollars are selling and taking their money elsewhere.

"There is not much evidence that investors or holders of foreign reserves have shifted in any serious way out of the dollar to this point," he said. "Indeed, we've seen a lot of flows into U.S. treasuries."

In an effort to boost a weakening economy, the central bank twice this year made sharp cuts in short-term interest rates, bringing the overnight fed funds rate down to 3 percent. Monetary policy operates with a lag, meaning that it takes some time for the rate cuts to take effect.

Colombia's rebels release four politicians who were hostages
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian rebels have handed over four politicians held hostage for more than six years to a Venezuelan-led recovery team.  The four were taken to Venezuela to be reunited with their families.

Helicopters carrying Venezuelan officials and Red Cross workers picked up the four hostages in a jungle clearing in southern Colombia.  Officials said the four were former lawmakers Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran, Luis Eladio Pérez and Jorge Gechem.

The director of Red Cross in Colombia, Barbara Hinterman, said the four appeared to be in good health for the flight to Caracas.

Hinterman said it was a very important day for Colombia and for the families of the freed hostages.

Venezuela's government and Red Cross workers led a similar effort last month to recover two other politicians freed by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia,  a self-declared marxist group.
Adam Isacson is an expert on Colombia at the Center for International Policy in Washington.  He says rebel leaders
are pursuing the hostage releases in an effort to pressure Colombia's government to free jailed rebels.

"They have been holding 44 people, with that demand, cruelly in the jungle for a long time," he said.  "Of those 44, 11 of them are civilians."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez played a key role last year in pressuring the rebels to begin releasing hostages as part of an effort to end the decades-long conflict in Colombia.  He has called for the United States and others to remove the rebel organization from lists of terrorist organizations.

Isacson says the Venezuelan leader's efforts have backfired, especially in Colombia.  He says support is soaring for Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, who has taken a hard line on the rebels.

"It has caused people to rally around the president and rally around the government, because all of a sudden there is a possible external enemy like there has never been before," he noted.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Colombians marched to protest the rebels and their use of violence and kidnapping in the country.

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