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These stories were published Friday, May 10, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 92
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Car-inspection plan starts with free checkups
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government and its designate automobile inspection firm are entering unknown waters at the end of the month with a plan to check out the condition of every private vehicle in the country.

That’s more than half a million cars. The firm chosen to do the job is the Spanish-Costa Rican RITEVE, SyC, a combination of the firms Supervisión y Control S.A. y Transal S.A.

But before the firm can start checking out vehicles, it needs to find out in what kind of shape the vehicles are. So they are offering 3,000 free checkups for the 80-point examination.

The implication is that depending on the mechanical condition of the average Costa Rican vehicle the company will be more strict or more lenient in the inspection.

Supervision y Control now does a similar inspection in Galacia, Spain. It claims that the best way to maintain vehicles in good condition is by periodic testing. Other governments have decided that spot checks are more cost effective, and a few U.S., states have eliminated their inspection services.

The contract was negotiated between the consortium and the Minsterio de Obras Publicas y Transporte. Under terms of the agreement RITEVE will maintain at least 16 inspection stations around the country. Three of these will be mobile stations.

After the free inspections are done and the machinery that evaluates the vehicles are broken in, the inspections will go on for months and be done according to the last digit of the license numbers of vehicles.

The vehicle program will be run along the same lines as the ecomarchamo program to check vehicles for excessive exhaust emissions. If you don’t pass, you have to go back.

The vehicle inspection program already has taken heat because the Spanish-Costa Rican firm has a monopoly. Some U.S. states use a similar program. Others, like New York, 

license private repair shops to provide the inspections. Costa Rica used to use government inspection stations.

The state of Oklahoma eliminated its inspection program in May 2001 with the claim that state residents would save money.

After the free inspections, the firm will charge for the service.  The rate for private vehicles will be about 8,000 colons or about $23.

The firm will be embarking on a major public relations effort to tell Costa Ricans about the program. But the average car owner already knows about the program, and the feelings are mixed.

On one hand, most Costa Ricans recognize that a lot of cars on the highways are in very bad mechanical shape and unsafe: The brakes and shocks are shot, the tires are worn and the signal lights are burned out. Plus the windshield is fractured.

However, residents fear a monopoly program run by foreign firms. Some marchers in the May 1 worker’s parade downtown were protesting the inspection program. But any serious protest has not yet appeared.

The major fear is that the inspection firm will be able to red tag vehicles so they cannot be driven, although the firm says it will not do this. Automobile mechanics, obviously, support the program which promises expanded employment.

The true test of the program will be in reducing accidents and the high number of traffic deaths.

Costa Rica itself is of mixed minds. On one hand government agencies, like the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly, promote highway safety. Yet new automobile tires are taxed as much as the equivalent of $10 per tire, and imported automobiles face duties as high as 89 percent.

And then, too, the Ministerio of Obras Publicas also is in charge of the highways and their maintenance, something that has a big impact on the mechanical condition of vehicles.

It's now time to move from the city I love
Sunday morning I woke up feeling better than I have in weeks. It had rained all night, and I periodically awoke to the sound, loving it. I especially like it when it begins to rain after sundown. Then I feel like I am living in Camelot. Feeling better, I thought, was the result of my new regimen of vitamins and exercise, but dear Mavis informed me that it was the negative ions the rain brought with it. She was right, of course. Negative ions are good for you, and they are present in water.

I am planning to move to Moravia. Some of my friends are very unhappy about this. One thinks Moravia is at the end of the earth. Another insists it is in Europe and Freud was born there. I explain that it is not. Moravia is a suburb of San Jose. Then they are sure they can’t get there from where they live. That stumps me, because it is beginning to seem as if you can’t get anywhere in the metropolitan area from anywhere else.

The influx of cars onto the streets and roads of Costa Rica is far greater than the increase in the number of people via immigration and birth, I am sure. What has not changed is the infrastructure. Streets that accommodated carts, buses and a few cars remain as they were — generally three lanes, at best, and ridden with potholes which require erratic driving to avoid. I am told that adding to the problem is the changeover from shipping freight via train to trucks — huge trucks, which hog the road and eat up the streets. 

A further problem is the clash of two cultures: the culture of the car (very familiar in the States) and the Costa Rican culture of social interaction. It is not uncommon to see a parked car on a busy street, with someone standing in the street chatting with the driver. And putting on your flashing lights means never having to move your double-parked car while you run into a soda or chat with a friend. Tico drivers do not honk at these transgressions, but a nanosecond is the time it takes a Tico to honk his horn at you once the light has turned green.

A trip from Escazú to my house, which normally takes about 25 minutes, Tuesday, 
took us an hour and five minutes. It was 3:30 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

in the afternoon. We figured that perhaps it was people leaving early from work because Wednesday was Inauguration Day and a holiday. I don’t think Abel Pacheco, the new president, will be able to solve this traffic problem. We may have to settle for one of his grandfatherly hugs and a homily. The traffic jams will just get worse for the next four years.

Which brings me back to why I am moving to Moravia and a more residential area (so residential I am just a block from the cemetery). All of this traffic has, of course, brought with it pollution and noise. And the pollution is beginning to get to me, as is the long walk to the bus stop, and the streets without traffic lights that I must cross. Pedestrian deaths in Costa Rica, I believe, are higher than anywhere else in the world. If one were to tally things up, cars probably kill more people in one year than all the wars combined for the past ten. 

I must admit, among the reasons for moving is the thought at the back of my mind that I have heard that we are new people every seven years. I have been in this apartment for seven years. I have enjoyed it immensely; I have also cluttered it with paper and stuff I don’t really need any more. It is time to rid myself of all this clutter, start a new life and learn how to look at a piece of paper once and get rid of it one way or another. 

I am surprised that there is not a 12-step program for people who can’t throw things away. Since there isn’t, I will move. And I am told that it is more humid and rains more in Moravia. That means more negative ions. That should be good for me.

More of Jo’s columns HERE.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report 
on the west coast of Nicoya
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Inaugural speech lacked specifics and consistency
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The kindest comment that can be made about President Abel Pacheco’s inauguration speech is that the thoughts were not logically consistent.

The president vowed to eliminate poverty but said he will not spend extra money to do it. And his technique for doing so basically is the bootstrap method: hard work, education and study, plus state supervision of children.

The poverty will be eliminated by tightening the purse strings, said Pacheco.  The existing budget could eliminate poverty three times over, the new president said Wednesday. But phrased another way, that says the last government of his friend and fellow party member Miguel Angel Rodríguez was wasting two-thirds of the cash.

Then, too, the president will propose constitutional guarantees to protect the environment, assuring that not a single tree in a primary growth forest will be cut down. Yet, even with the guarantee the trees eventually will fall of their own weight and old age. And who owns these forests, anyway?

The president, a psychiatrist, also proposed a national mental health plan but gave no indication how this would work or who would pay for it. 

He came out strongly in favor of a new fiscal program to eliminate the extensive internal and external government debt. He backs a plan explained by a committee of ex-ministers four weeks ago. But that plan imposed new taxes that can only be paid, in one way or another, by the average Tico and the foreign resident.

The president supports foreign trade but said that Costa Rica will not compete based on low wages paid to workers but by its quality.  But Costa Rica primarily exports agricultural products.

Pacheco also said that he was not going to support the search for petroleum or open pit gold mines in the country. "The true petroleum and the true gold 
of the future will be oxygen and water. It will be our aquifers and our woods."  That doesn’t make cars move.

Analysis on the news

For personal security, Pacheco is creating a new bureaucracy, the Consejo Nacional de Seguridad to coordinate other agencies. And he wants to see the courts reformed and justice made more rigorous. But these promises lack the specifics that might mean something to robbery and burglary victims.

Pacheco also said that Costa Rica would no longer be a destination for sex tourists. He stopped short of how he plans to accomplish this. Instead, it is left to the listener to figure out what he means.

The new president said that he wanted Costa Rica to be the Athens of Central American with an international reputation in the medical and computer software fields. And he wants artists, scientists and writers to flourish here. Yet there is no word how this will be accomplished. 

And Pacheco declared that Costa Rica would not look at the world as just a big market. He wants to interject ethics, adding the country will not be tolerant with those who enslave workers, eliminating by reference much of the Third World.

Pacheco said that the country’s attitude should not be confused with paternalism. Businessmen and unions, he said should understand that national interests far outweigh their individual interests. But weren’t unions created specifically to address narrow specific interests?

Some Costa Ricans close to the political scene were concerned by the lack of depth and inconsistencies in the inauguration speech. The idea of eliminating poverty, which actually is a statistical concept, caused eyes to roll, particularly when poverty is to be eliminated without additional expenditures.

Such grand thoughts are acceptable in campaign speeches. And it is customary to give a new president some uncritical breathing time when taking over the job. But a president should be concrete and specific, too.


 
 
El Niño conditions
‘weak or moderate’

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scientists predict that "weak to moderate" El Nino weather conditions will develop by the end of 2002.

That word came from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center. They said Thursday that warmer-than-normal sea surface and subsurface temperatures were observed throughout most of the equatorial Pacific during April. Sea surface temperatures were up to 2 degrees Celsius warmer than average in the region between the Galapagos Islands and the South American coast.

The scientists noted that a weak to moderate El Nino would feature less significant global impacts than were experienced during the very strong 1997-98 El Nino.

During a major El Nino, the normally cold water off the west coast of South America becomes much warmer, exceeding normal temperatures by several degrees, while the waters in the western Pacific cool.

El Ninos can affect weather conditions around the world. Among the consequences, for example, are increased rainstorms across the southern tier of the United States and in Peru, which have caused destructive flooding; and drought in the West Pacific, sometimes associated with devastating brush fires in Australia.

Further information is available at the following Web site: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

10 percent of migrants
came from Latin lands

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — About 10 percent of the world's 150 million migrants were born in a Latin American or Caribbean country, reports a United Nations economic agency.

The findings by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean do not take into account those whose legal status in their adoptive homes is irregular or undocumented, the agency said. All together the commission estimated that almost 20 million Latin Americans and Caribbean nationals lived outside their own countries at the end of the 20th century.

In a new report called "Globalization and Development," the commission said that seven migrants out of every 10 reside in the United States. Of the rest, half go to live in another country in Latin America and the Caribbean, or to other regions of the world. Canada (with over 500,000 immigrants) and countries such as Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan are among other principal destinations for migrants.

The report was presented during the commission session this week in Brasilia, Brazil. The United States and the other 47 member states, along with U.N. specialized agencies and non-governmental groups, explored the challenges of globalization at that meeting.

The report said that the world community needs to join forces in the struggle against "trafficking in immigrants," which ECLAC described as a source of illicit profit for organizations that operate on an international scale.

Pastrana tours
church death site

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOJAYA, Colombia — President Andrés Pastrana has toured the ruins of a church destroyed last week in a leftist rebel attack that killed 119 people.

Military commanders and cabinet ministers accompanied Pastrana Thursday, as he visited the ruined church in the village of Bojaya in northwest Colombia.

Pastrana called the attack a massacre and said the world should condemn it. He made his comments, as a United Nations delegation traveled to the village separately to learn more about what happened.

The country's largest Marxist rebel group, FARC, fired the mortar bombs that destroyed the church where villagers had sought refuge from fighting between the guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary forces.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said it hit the church by mistake. FARC says its intended target was a group of paramilitary troops gathered nearby. The rebels accuse the paramilitaries of using civilians as human shields.

Last week's violence occurred in Choco Department, one of the poorest and most volatile regions in Colombia. Officials say the fighting is for control of strategic drug trafficking routes.

The rebels and paramilitary forces have battled frequently for control of the Colombia's lucrative coca fields. Coca is the main ingredient of the illegal drug cocaine.

Colombia has endured 38 years of civil war involving government troops, leftist rebels and right wing paramilitaries.
 

Argentina repeals
subversion measure

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina's Senate has voted to repeal a 1974 economic subversion law that has come under heavy criticism from the International Monetary Fund. 

Following fierce debate over the issue, the senators repealed the law in a close vote early Thursday. The legislation now goes to the lower house of Congress. 

A number of bankers and businessmen are facing court action under the economic subversion law. 

CIA failed in try
to kill Afghan chief

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has tried to kill Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is suspected of plotting to topple the interim government in Kabul, and also harm U.S. and coalition troops.

An un-named U.S. official Thursday confirmed media reports that an unmanned CIA spy plane fired a missile at Hekmatyar. The Afghan warlord survived the attack, but some of his followers were killed.

The official refused to provide further details of the attack, which according to The New York Times, occurred on Monday.

Commenting on the incident, President Bush said that when Americans go after individuals in the "theater of war," it is because those individuals intend to do harm to America.

U.S. officials say Hekmatyar — a former Afghan prime minister — was responsible for leaflets recently distributed in eastern Afghanistan offering rewards for killing Americans, as well as attacks on the interim government of Hamid Karzai.

Hekmatyar, a former warlord and a former recipient of U.S. military aid to resist Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, currently leads a hard-line Islamic faction. He says he has a large militia following, and still has U.S.-made Stinger missiles that were given to him for use against the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980's.

Recently, Hekmatyar accused Hamid Karzai of being a "puppet" of foreign powers. He says Afghans prefer involvement in internal war rather than being occupied by foreigners or foreign troops.

Mexican oil chief
ordered arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — A Mexican federal judge has ordered the arrest of a former director of the state-owned oil company, Pemex. 

Officials allege that while Rogelio Montemayor headed Pemex, the company funneled more than $100 million into the year 2000 presidential campaign of Francisco Labastida. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

Labastida was the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. Labastida lost the vote to current President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party, whose party ended 71 years of one-party rule by the PRI. 

The PRI's current party president, Roberto Madrazo, says the start of the legal process will end what he calls the "politicization" of the case by President Fox's government. 

He also noted the judge's order came one day after election officals ordered authorities to reopen an investigation into Fox's year 2000 campaign finances. There have been allegations the Fox campaign received foreign donations, which are illegal under Mexican law.

Key figures in President Fox's 2000 campaign say they are confident the new investigation will find no evidence of wrongdoing.
 

Trade bill addition
prompts concerns

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bush Administration officials and key Republican senators have criticized a proposed restrictive amendment to a trade bill that would give President Bush trade negotiating powers. The bill itself remains stalled in the Senate.

During a press briefing Thursday, senior Republican senators joined Commerce Secretary Don Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick in opposing the amendment, which, they say, would undermine U.S. negotiators' ability to reach meaningful trade agreements under trade promotion authority, otherwise known as fast track.

Under fast track, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments.

The amendment sponsored by Sens. Mark Dayton, Democrat from Minnesota, and Larry Craig, Republican from Idaho, would exclude from fast track treatment provisions in any negotiated trade agreement that would alter U.S. antidumping, countervailing duty or other trade remedy laws. In other words, Congress would vote on those provisions separately from the rest of the agreement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican from Iowa, said at the briefing that the amendment would make it extremely difficult for the United States to persuade its trading partners to improve market access and reduce subsidies.

"No country is going to want to negotiate with the United States if they know the Senate gives the President its authority to negotiate with one hand, but stands ready to take it back with the other," he said in a prepared statement. 

Cuba says U.S. charge
on bioterrorism ‘vile’

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA. Cuba — Cuba is denouncing as "vile" U.S. charges that it is seeking to develop biological weapons. 

A brief Cuban government statement publicized Thursday said it would have a more "adequate and complete" response. 

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton on Monday accused Cuba of developing arms of mass destruction — particularly biological weapons. He added that the communist country may have transferred technology to nations he identified only as "rogue states."

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