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These stories were published Tuesday, March 16, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 53
Jo Stuart
About us
Another blazing

The scene is looking west  from the vicinity of Hospital Calderón Guardia. The unsettled weather and cloudy skies make for great evening displays

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Association believes it has won residency fight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica figures that it has won its fight to keep immigration officials from demanding new paperwork from foreigners who live here.

Ryan Piercy, general manager of the association, said Monday that the organization has won three of four cases it brought in the Sala IV constitutional court, and the fourth case has not yet been decided.

The association, which is a major resource for North Americans who seek some form of residency status here, went to court last year. In October immigration officials said they were investigating hundreds and perhaps thousands of pensionado and rentista residencies that had been approved by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. 

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería claimed that the paperwork submitted by many expats did not conform to what the law required.

Piercy said Monday that the association just received a legal summary of the decision handed down in one constitutional case. The major point is that the constitutional court agreed with the association that the government cannot go back over its own actions, said Piercy.

Immigration can only require the paperwork specified in the law for renewal of the residency status, Piercy said, citing the decision. That paperwork, in the case of pensionados and rentistas, includes proof that the individual has spent sufficient time in Costa Rica and has changed a certain amount of money into colons. For pensionados, the amount is $7,200 for the year or $600 a month. For rentistas, the amount is $12,000 or $1,000 a month.

Immigration officials refused to renew these temporary residencies until the paperwork within each foreigner’s file conformed to what the law requires.

The problem developed because several lawyers, including Lilliana Torres Murillo, who works in conjunction with the association, followed simplified procedures that had been approved by the tourism institute. Although the immigration department approves most residency requests, the tourism institute was designated in the law as the agency that would approve requests for pensionado and rentista status.

Although the action of the immigration department had been characterized as an investigation of certain lawyers, including Ms. Torres, Marco Badilla, director general, said last month that all his department wanted was for foreigners to bring their files into conformity with the law. He discounted reports of an investigation.

The law says that paperwork that foreigners must present for residency must be authenticated at every step of the submission process. This is called apostille. So a U.S. birth certificate presented as part of a residency request must be signed by a local or state official. That signature must be verified by other county or state officials. The signatures of the county or state officials must be verified by the secretary of state in the relevant state. Then the document and the verifications must be submitted to a Costa Rican consul so that the secretary of state’s verification can itself be verified.

Then once the document comes to Costa Rica, it is translated and the signature of the Costa Rican consul is itself verified by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. This detailed process, designed to prevent fraud, is specified in international treaties.

Much of the paperwork in the residency files under dispute were simply notarized here in Costa Rica, and there is no chain of verification.

Piercy said that he would be meeting soon with immigration officials to insist that they begin to issue renewals of the pensionado and rentista carnets that had been withheld since October.

The residents involved in the dispute are those who obtained pensionado or rentista residency between 1999 when the expedited system was approved by the tourism institute to late 2002 when immigration officials got a legal opinion from the Procuraduría General de la República requiring the more complex verification process. Many of these people who are affected do not know it because no effort has been made by immigration or the lawyers involved to contact them.

The issue only becomes known as each individual seeks to renew the residency status. Renewal is required every two years.

The single constitutional court decision that the association has directs the immigration department to pay court costs and damages, Piercy said, but he doubts that this will happen soon, if at all.

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Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Here is the hidden load of drugs that was being carried by a tractor trailer Sunday.
Dog sniffs out bags
identified as cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are crediting a drug-sniffing dog for finding 250 kilos (550 pounds) of cocaine that was hidden in the tractor of a transport rig that was about to cross the border into Nicaragua Sunday morning.

Agents said that five large rigs were waiting permission to cross the border at Peñas Blancas when the dog, part of the Unidad Canina of the Judicial Investigation Organization, gave the alarm.

A detailed inspection of the tractor led to the discovery of 14 nylon sacks that contained the drug, agents said. The sacks were hidden in the rear part of the tractor, they added.

Arrested was a Guatemalan trucker, identified as Victor Manuel Montenegro García, 53. He was carrying canned tuna, sardines and furniture in the trailer part of his rig, agents said. The man had been in the country about a week, agents said.

The man got six months preventative detention in the Juzgado Penal de Liberia Monday. The case is being handled by the Sección de Estupefacientes of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Trinidad and Tobago
trade delegation here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 45 persons representing 25 businesses have arrived in Costa Rica from Trinidad and Tobago. They will be here through Thursday making trade contacts.

The visit, headed by Ken Valley, the trade minister of Trinidad and Tobago, is the first visible result of a free trade pact signed by Costa Rica and the Caribbean Community last week, according to the Costa Rican ambassador in Port of Spain, Carlos Isidro Echeverría.

The delegation was received Monday in Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry by Roberto Tovar Faja, the minister, who pointed out the enormous opportunities that the free trade pact offers for commerce and to expand political relations between the two countries.

The delegation will meet with President Abel Pacheco tonight. Other meetings are with tourism and financial officials.

Suspect in murder
believed on the run

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are seeking help from the public to locate the principal suspect in the murder of a woman Sunday afternoon.

The suspect is described as a Nicaraguan male of an 
Moya in competition
athletic build with the last names of Moya Calderón.

The dead woman is Marlene Vargas Morera, 50, of San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados. She died of a knife wound to the heart.

Moya lived with her, but fled the scene shortly after the murder. Neighbors said his hands were bloody. Although police said they arrived 

at the scene about 4 minutes after an emergency call, they were unable to find him.

The Judicial Investigating Organization is in charge of the case now and has set up these numbers for information: 295-3372, 295-3373, 295-3311 and 295-3936.

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Dominican Republic, U.S. reach trade agreement
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and the Dominican Republic concluded a free-trade agreement Monday that will promote growth and opportunity by integrating the Dominican Republic into the recently concluded U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, according to a press release issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

"This is a proud day for the people of the Dominican Republic and the United States: with close ties and $9 billion in trade already, this free-trade agreement will help both countries to grow stronger together," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

With the addition of the Dominican Republic to the "cutting-edge, modern" agreement reached between the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, the combined total goods trade among all seven countries is approximately $32 billion, Zoellick observed.

The trade representative’s press release explained that the inclusion of the Dominican Republic in the trade pact not only will lower trade barriers, but 

also will require reforms to foster business development and investment. These reforms include enhancing government transparency, strengthening the rule of law, and improving intellectual property-rights protection.

A fact sheet and outline of the U.S.-Dominican Republic free-trade agreement is available at www.ustr.gov, the press release said.

Zoellick thanked two proponents of the free trade agreement, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, a New York Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller, an Illinois Republican, for their leadership, along with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, Republican of California, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican. 

Weller accompanied Zoellick on his visit to the Dominican Republic in January, when the negotiations where launched.

The Dominican Republic is the largest beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a trade preference program in place since 1984 that provides duty-free access to products from qualifying countries in the region. 

U.S. will conduct extensive study of cattle herds
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States will have an enhanced program to test for the potential presence of bovine spongofirm encephalopathy in U.S. cattle herds fully operational by June 1, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Monday.

Briefing reporters here, Veneman said she hopes the plan will help U.S. trading partners understand that the United States is "strongly committed to preventing the occurrence and spread of BSE," also known as mad cow disease.

Under the enhanced testing plan, which will be posted on the U.S. Department of Agriculture web site, the government hopes to test as many cows as possible for BSE during the 12-18 months after June 1, according to Ron DeHaven, the department's chief veterinarian, who also spoke at the briefing. 

DeHaven said tests will be geographically dispersed around the United States and proportional to the number of cows in each state. Samples will be collected from farms, slaughterhouses, rendering plants, veterinary clinics and livestock auction houses, he said.

Although the Agriculture Department has set no specific goal for the number of tests to be conducted, DeHaven said that if 268,000 tests were conducted, the department would have a 99 percent confidence level in determining whether the United States has a BSE problem and, if so, with what prevalence.

The federal government will work with state and university diagnostic laboratories to collect and analyze tests, he said. Suspect test results will be sent to the department’s national laboratory in Iowa for confirmation, he said.

The "intensive" surveillance program will cover all high-risk animals, which are those that can’t walk, have a nervous disorder or exhibit signs of a disease, as well as those that die of unexplained causes. The program also will include random testing of cows considered normal, he said.

Following the 12-18 month testing period, the department will review the results of the program and decide on plans for future testing, he said.

Neither the scientific data on mad cow disease nor international animal health standards support testing 100 percent of slaughtered cattle in the country, he said.

Veneman said the program will be paid for with $70 million from a budget transfer.

Increased testing was one of the recommendations of an international review group formed after a single case of mad cow was discovered in December 2003 in Washington state, Veneman said.

DeHaven added that a rule adopted March 4 allows agriculture officials to gather additional quantities of cow blood and tissues at slaughter and processing sites for analysis to detect the presence of other diseases.

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Aristide arrives in Jamaica from African exile
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in the Caribbean for the first time since fleeing to exile in Africa late last month.

A plane carrying Aristide from the Central African Republic arrived in Jamaica Monday afternoon at Kingston's Norman Manley international airport. Where he went from there has not been reported.

Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has frozen his country's diplomatic relations with Jamaica and recalled Haiti's ambassador to Kingston. Earlier, Latortue had termed Jamaica's acceptance of the visit as an "unfriendly act" that will increase tensions.

The deposed Haitian president is accompanied by his wife and bodyguards. Also with him are Jamaican lawmaker Sharon Hay Webster and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California. 

The official reason for the visit is so Aristide can be reunited with his two daughters. Jamaican officials say Aristide plans to remain in their country for up to 10 weeks. They say they have told Aristide he cannot use Jamaica as a platform 

to seek reinstatement in Haiti, some 200 kms. (120 miles) away.

Before leaving Africa, Aristide was asked if he wants to return to power. He replied, "I'm listening to my people." 

Meanwhile, U.S. military spokesmen in Haiti say an American Marine has been shot and wounded during a peacekeeping patrol in the capital, Port-au-Prince. They say the Marine was hit late Sunday in the same district where Marines came 
under fire Friday and killed two men in a gunbattle. 

This is believed to be the first casualty among U.S. peacekeepers who arrived in Haiti two weeks ago after Aristide's ouster.

The peacekeepers landed in Haiti just hours after Aristide resigned under pressure from domestic opponents as well as the United States and France. He fled Haiti on the same day, as rebels were closing in on Port-au-Prince. 

Aristide has accused the United States of forcing him to resign, a charge the United States has strongly denied. 

Jo Stuart
About us
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