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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 7
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Tourists and vendors take advantage of the 
rest area near the Puente Amistad 
on the Río Tempisque.
Photo by Garland M. Baker
Big Guanacaste bridge has long-term implications
By Garland M. Baker 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Puente Tempisque Amistad Taiwan or Tempisque Friendship Taiwan Bridge is much more than just that.

The viewing area is a place for tourists to take pictures, and motorists can see hundreds of people gazing at the structure as if it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Over the weekend, vendors were everywhere selling local goodies like snow cones, fruit slices, barbeque meats and the like.  Little tour boats were taking loads of people on the river to look under the span. The bridge is beautiful but is not gigantic in comparison to other bridges of the world. 

A bus had broken down on the Nicoya Peninsual side of the Río Tempique, and some local people were quick to hitchhike and talk about the bridge.

All agreed on how happy they were that the link to San José was open and how it had changed their lives.  Before the bridge opened, work was hard to find and many people were said to be having a hard time making ends meet. A ferry connected the east and west bank of the river, but the trip sometimes took several hours when traffic was heavy.

Now it all made sense, the super-structure over the river is much more than just a passageway.  It is like Marco Polo opening the trade routes on the Silk Road to the orient or Christopher Columbus conquering the seas to establish new markets in the West Indies. 

This simple connection donated by Taiwan is changing Guanacaste.  There are all kinds of new construction in Nicoya.  The streets are as if they were in an old gold rush western town.  The beach communities of Sámara and Nosara are revitalized 

after a downturn in real estate sales in the area.

The bridge cost ¢10.1 billion ($26.1 million) and was a gift from the Taiwanese government.  This amount of money is nothing compared to the new commerce and increase in property values this shortcut brings.

Some people obviously have done their homework, and it is probably the benefactors of this wonderful present.  The Chinese and especially the Taiwanese have been extensive investors in Costa Rica for many years.  Their foresight learned from thousands of years of history allow them to plan generations into the future and they must know this 100-year bridge will provide for an explosion of growth for years to come.

As San José has turned from a little city into almost a metropolitan area with many new malls opening in the past few years, Guanacaste too is now about to burst into something a lot of old timers do not want to see: Crowded beaches, too much construction and higher prices.  The 50-year-old writer of this article remembers when he was 18 and could go to a beach that had not been walked on for months by another.

On the other hand, many more tourists and Costa Ricans will be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the country, and businesses will thrive, giving more people work and the country economic success.

If you are in Costa Rica or planning to visit soon, the trip from San José to Guanacaste via the new Tempisque Friendship Taiwan Bridge is recommended.  Tourists can take lots of pictures so someday they can reflect back on the time when they went to Costa Rica’s Pacific Region before progress took over. 

Garland M. Baker is a local businessman who traveled to the Nicoya Peninsula over the weekend. 

 
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Four suspects held
in mugging of Canadian

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men mugged a Canadian Saturday night in downtown San José, but four suspects fell into police hands during a regular immigration sweep.

The circumstances of the mugging are not clear, but when police detained four men they found, a Canadian passport, a social security card from that country, a driver’s license, an airplane ticket, some $100 in cash, plus 500 to 700 bills of Canadian money, they said.

The arrested men are three Nicaraguans with the last names of Roca Coca, Ojeda Rocha, and Mercado Moya. The fourth suspect is a Costa Rican with the last names of Castro Ibarra, said police.

The downtown area has been a hotbed of muggings for the last three years, and most victims do not report the crimes. Although crimes against foreigners are reported from informal sources here, a significantly higher number of Costa Ricans are victims. Regular immigration and criminal sweeps seem to have reduced the number of robberies of foreigners significantly.

During the same police sweep late Saturday and early Sunday, officers grabbed two men, both Nicaraguans, who were trying to mug yet another man. They were using a technique know as the "candado chino" in Spanish where a type of headlock cuts off blood flow to the brain and causes the victim to pass out and collapse to the pavement.

During their patrol of a bar on Avenida 8 at Calle 2, police also arrested two men as suspects in the sale of crack to patrons. Police also detained 19 persons for possible immigration violations and took 12 into custody for possible deportation. The other seven were released to present documents at a later date.

Mistreatment of animals
topic of center exposition

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano will feature a photo exhibit about violence and ill treatment of animals.

The exhibit is called "Tails Tale" and features photos that include the slashes left on the face of a horse after a knife attack and scenes of illegal cock fights.

The exhibition will be inaugurated Friday, Jan. 23, at the La Sabana center. After Feb. 19, the exhibit moves to the center’s facilities in Cartago.

New police station
for area in Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fuerza Pública has opened up a new police station in Bananito Norte in the district of Matama in the Canton of Limón. 

The new station, called a delegación in Spanish also will serve as a center for the agency’s community policing program. This gives residents a chance to join in the fight against crime.

The opening of the police station coincided with the graduation of  60 residents from a community policing program.

Some 15,000 persons live in the district, and the police station was encouraged by the local development association, said Erick Lacayo of the Fuerza Pública.

Mistake about bridge
costs man his life

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man on a bicycle apparently made the assumption either Saturday night or Sunday morning that a conduit still crossed the Río Chiquero in San Antonio de Escazú.

Unbeknownst to the man, identified as Cristian Felipe Arroyo Corrales, heavy rains and flooding had carried the conduit downstream earlier this year.

The man accidentally rode his bicycle to where he thought the improvised bridge was located. Neighbors found his body in the river at daybreak Sunday. Officials said he was between 25 and 30 years of age. The scene is some 100 meters north and 100 meters west of the local police station.

U.S. tourist killed
In bus holdup try

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A U.S. tourist has been shot dead in western Guatemala. Authorities said Thursday that 52-year-old Brett Richards was killed when a bus carrying him and a dozen other passengers was attacked by robbers. 

News reports say a bullet hit Richards in the chest as the assailants fired shots to stop the bus. Richards, who was from the U.S. state of Utah, died on the way to the hospital.  Guatemala has suffered a recent bout of violent crime against foreigners. 

A Costa Rican bus passenger died last year when robbers tried to stop and hold up a San José-bound bus in Honduras.

U.S. condemns actions
of government in Haiti

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has condemned the actions of the Haitian government in response to a political demonstration Wednesday in Port-au-Prince. 

"Although it is clear some elements of the police worked diligently to protect the demonstrators, it is also clear that other police officers collaborated with heavily-armed, hired gangs to attack the demonstrators. A U.S. statement said. "Throughout the day, these same government-sponsored gangs rampaged through the streets of the capital, stealing cars, attacking radio stations, vandalizing businesses, and harassing people."

The United States warned that these actions contradict the government’s own declarations that it seeks compromise and a peaceful resolution of Haiti’s political crisis. 

"A government that wishes to be considered democratic cannot continue to use street gangs as an instrument of terror and intimidation," the United States said,adding that the government of Haiti must end immediately its efforts to suppress peaceful dissent, must punish those who commit violent acts of repression, and must undertake the fundamental reforms necessary to restore the rule of law.

Plane crash hurts pilot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A banana spraying aircraft crashed on the La Roxana finca near Guápiles about noon Friday. The pilot, identified by the last names of Pérez Gutiérrez, suffered injuries and was hospitalized, according to Fuerza Pública officers.

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Summit opens today but skepticism will reign
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The United States will attempt to rally hemispheric leaders as the Special Summit of the Americas opens today in Monterrey, México, but the war in Iraq and anti-terrorist countermeasures seem to have cost the country the moral high ground it usually tries to occupy at such world events.

President George Bush meets with North and South American leaders today. Immigration and regional trade are being called the key issues at the summit. Bush is likely to find a receptive, but somewhat skeptical, group of regional leaders. There has been a marked move to the left in Latin America in recent years, and Washington's agenda promoting free trade and economic liberalization is not always welcomed.

Then there is the issue of fingerprinting non-European foreigners who come to the United States on visas. Brazil said over the weekend that  it will strengthen its policy of fingerprinting all American visitors in response to anti-terrorism measures enforced by the United States.

Monterrey may also provide a grandstand for Venezuela's contentious leader, Hugo Chavez, who has rejected globalization and economic liberalization policies promoted by Washington. The United States has expressed concern about the friendship that has developed between Chavez and Cuba's Communist leader, Fidel Castro. 

The warmest reception President Bush is likely to receive in Monterrey will come from the host, Mexican President Vicente Fox, who is expressing joy over the Bush proposal to legalize undocumented immigrant workers.

The free trade area of the Americas is one major topic at the summit. The United States wants to create this hemispheric market by the end of next year, but negotiations are faltering. The North American Free Trade Agreement with México and Canada, now 10 years old, helped Mexico draw foreign investment and factory jobs, largely because of its geographic position bordering the United States.  But the economic results are mixed.

The pact also served as the model for the recent 

free trade agreement between the United States and four Central American nations. But Costa Rica has not and maybe will not agree to the proposed trade pact, and other countries are getting cold feet for the larger agreement.

Some other regional nations are skeptical about what free trade can do for them, especially if it comes at what they consider too high a price. Some nations, like Costa Rica, have balked at U.S. demands that they privatize state-owned industries and create laws that would protect foreign investors at the expense of local interests. 

Bush comes to Monterrey without a solid base at home. His Iraqi war and authoritarian policies have divided the nation like no other time since the Vietnam war.

His hardest sell on free trade might turn out to be the truculent U.S. Congress, which has to approve any trade plan and any immigration plan. Some view the proposal on legalizing Mexican undocumented workers as a cynical ploy to win the Hispanic vote for the U.S. presidential elections this fall.

Some U.S. citizens suspect that Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft will seek to expand the fingerprinting rules to include U.S. citizens who travel. If so, the proposal would be a reduction to personal liberties. The expressed reason for fingerprinting is to prevent terrorists from using a third party’s passport. With foreigners subjected to intense screening, a terrorist might be tempted to obtain a U.S. passport.

The Bush administration’s detention camp for Muslims fighters in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and its efforts to undermine U.S. constitutional rules in terrorism cases have not gone unnoticed in Latin America.

Another point of controversy is the U.S. Plan Colombia, which has pumped military aid into South America to fight drug trafficking and anti-government rebels there. Success has been very limited and some countries do not like fighting as proxies for U.S. policies. Costa Rica’s legislative body refused before Christmas permission for U.S. anti-drug ships to dock for resupply at the nation’s ports.

Fox would like to see borderless North America 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The president here says he can envision a day when immigration controls would be eliminated among the United States, Canada and Mexico. President Vicente Fox's comments follow a proposal by U.S. President George Bush to overhaul U.S. immigration policy.

President Fox said the Bush administration's immigration initiative that would grant temporary work visas to millions of undocumented workers in the United States is a step in the right direction. 

Appearing on the U.S. television program, the Mexican leader was asked if he would favor scrubbing immigration barriers entirely between the United States and Mexico so that people on both sides of the border could live and work wherever they choose. "On the long, long-term, I think, yes, that would be the best for our two nations — or our three nations, including Canada. On the long term, this North American bloc can be the leading bloc of the world and be the most competitive bloc by working together and, through that, be able to keep increasing the quality and level of life of our citizens," he said.

Fox said Mexico never had any expectation of a blanket U.S. amnesty for illegal immigrants in the United States that would put undocumented workers on a path to U.S. citizenship. He said Mexicans who work in the United States remain proud of their heritage and their nationality, but are compelled by economic necessity to look for employment north of the border.

For years, Mexico has pressed the United States to grant some form of legal status to the millions of undocumented Mexicans who work and pay taxes in the United States. Last week, President Bush proposed granting three-year labor visas to illegal immigrants who apply for them. The visas would be renewable, but would not entitle holders to any special consideration for U.S. citizenship.

Some critics say the Bush administration proposal effectively rewards people for breaking U.S. immigration laws. Others say the proposal does not go far enough to address the needs of undocumented workers.

President Fox meets with President Bush Monday on the sidelines of the Special Summit of the Americas, which Fox is hosting this week.


 
Latin America less economically free, study says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean continue to suffer from their own counterproductive policies, say the editors of the 2004 "Index of Economic Freedom," and the results are clear: The region became less economically free over the last year.

Of the 26 countries the editors have graded in the region this year, 11 improved and 13 declined. In 
fact, of the 10 countries with the world's largest declines in economic freedom, two are in Latin America: Venezuela and Argentina.
But there is one bright spot: Thanks to modifications in its "monetary policy" score, Chile officially became a "free" economy by index standards. It has completed free-trade agreements with the European Union and the United States and will be phasing out complex non-tariff barriers as a result of the free-trade agreement with the United States.

"A country's level of economic freedom is critical," said Marc Miles, one of the editors. "Countries with the highest levels of economic freedom also have the highest living standards."

The Index, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, has long documented that the nations with the most economic freedom are also the most prosperous. Those with the best scores in the 10 categories measured enjoy higher standards of living and higher per capita incomes. 

The latest data suggest that countries begin to see the benefits of opening their economies simply by starting or continuing the process. The one-fifth of countries surveyed where index scores improved the most enjoyed an average growth in gross domestic product of 4.89 percent. For the one- fifth that improved the least, gross domestic product grew at only about half that rate, 2.53 percent.

In Latin America, El Salvador, ranked as "mostly free," improved its "government intervention" and "monetary policy" scores this year, making it the region's second-freest economy. It has made great strides in liberalizing markets, privatizing industries and deregulating commerce. Aside from the gains made by Chile and El Salvador, though, most of the news from Latin America was bad. 

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, "has purposely strangled the country's private sector" to take revenge on merchants who attempted to force him from office, the editors write. As a result, his country's index score has tumbled so far that it is just eight from the bottom of the 155 countries the editors rank globally. And today, 80 percent of Chavez's countrymen in a land rich in natural resources live below the poverty line.

Argentina's new president, Nestor Kirchner, seeks to jumpstart his economy by financing public works projects. The government has instituted price controls and financial restrictions and ceased to adequately protect property rights or control inflation. "Inevitably, Kirchner will discover that 

such methods kill economic growth, not create it," the editors write.

Cuba, by contrast, continued to improve and even passed Venezuela on the index list. Indeed, the island nation was one of the 10 most-improved countries, thanks to a stronger monetary policy score. But with significant non-tariff trade barriers, high taxes, numerous state-owned companies and weak protection of property rights — to name just a few of the factors holding it back — Cuba has a long way to go before it can be considered "free."

As in previous years, the Index ratings reflect an analysis of 50 different economic variables, grouped into the 10 categories: banking and finance; capital flows and foreign investment; monetary policy; fiscal burden of government; trade policy; wages and prices; government intervention in the economy; property rights; regulation; and informal (or black) market activity. Countries are rated one to five in each category, one being the best, five the worst. These ratings are then averaged to produce the overall Index score.

Worldwide, the scores of 75 countries are better, the scores of 69 are worse, and the scores of 11 are unchanged from last year's Index. Of the 155 countries ranked this time, 16 are classified as "free," 55 are "mostly free," 72 are "mostly unfree," and 12 are "repressed."

Costa Rica ranked ninth in Latin America and 50th overall with an index score of 2.71, the same as in 2002.

In addition to Chile and El Salvador, The Bahamas (2.25), Barbados (2.41), Trinidad and Tobago (2.45) Uruguay (2.55), Bolivia (2.59) and Belize (2.69) were listed as being more free.

Panamá came in at 58th place with a 2.83 score. Nicaragua was 67th at 2.94 and Guatemala scored 3.16 for 87th place overall.

In the world, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand led the group of the most economically free countries with the United States No. 10. North Korea, Libya and Zimbabwe were classified as the least free. The rankings were:

The Most Free: Hong Kong (1st), Singapore (2nd), New Zealand (3rd), Luxembourg (4th), Ireland (5th), Estonia (6th), United Kingdom (7th), Denmark (8th), Switzerland (9th), United States (10th)

 The Least Free: Tajikistan (146th), Venezuela (147th), Iran (148th), Uzbekistan (149th), Turkmenistan (150th), Burma (151st), Laos (151st), Zimbabwe (153rd), Libya (154th), North Korea (155th)

This is the 10th consecutive year The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal have published the Index. The foundation is generally regarded as a conservative think tank.

The full text of the report, as well as charts and graphs, are available via the Internet at www.heritage.org/index.


 
 
Venezuela's Chavez tells U.S. to mind own business
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  President Hugo Chavez has accused the United States of meddling in his country's sovereign affairs.

Speaking at an official event in Caracas Saturday, Chavez was especially critical of U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, saying she does not respect the rights of Venezuela's people.   "What happens in Venezuela is the business of Venezuelans and nobody else on the planet," he said.

Friday Ms. Rice urged President Chavez to demonstrate that he believes in democracy by allowing the recall vote requested by Venezuela's opposition. She also condemned Venezuela's close 

ties with Communist Cuba, calling them unhelpful for democracy in the region. 

In his response to Ms. Rice, Chavez hailed Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and praised the new left-leaning presidents Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

President Chavez dismissed accusations that he and Castro have formed an alliance to promote revolution in Latin America. Chavez said the real cause for the rise of left-leaning government is the poverty and misery of too many people. He vowed to express his views at this week's summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Mexico. 

President Bush will also attend, but the U.S. and Venezuelan leaders are not scheduled to meet. 

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