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These articles were published Thursday, May 12, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 93
Jo Stuart
About us
Abel Pacheco (third from left) is among six presidents and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (right) at a military honor ceremony Wednesday.


U.S. Defense Department photos by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF
Pacheco and colleagues get Pentagon red carpet 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Defense Department pulled all the stops Wednesday as six presidents — including Abel Pacheco of Costa Rica — visited the Pentagon.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Defense secretary, greeted Pacheco and Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños, Honduran President Ricardo Maduro, Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, President Antonio Saca from El Salvador, and President Leonel Fernandez from the Dominican Republic, when their motorcades arrived at the Pentagon. 

Protocol officials said they could not remember the last time so many presidents visited the Pentagon at the same time. 

Rumsfeld escorted the six presidents to an Armed Forces Honor Review on the Pentagon's parade field. 

Costa Rica doe not have an army, so unlike some of his presidential colleagues, Pacheco is not a frequent guest at military parades and ceremonies.

The presidents are in the United States to press for the U.S. adoption of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. Congress will debate the measure soon, said officials on Capitol Hill. 

Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic sent troops to Iraq in 2003 as part of the Multinational Division Central-South. El Salvador still has special operations forces in Iraq. 

Following today's ceremony, Rumsfeld and the presidents had a breakfast meeting and discussed economic development and security, 

as well as what effect the Central American Free Trade Agreement would have on those issues. The six presidents will meet with President George Bush at the White House this morning to press the case for ratifying the free-trade agreement. 

Pact faces challenge in U.S. Congress

"Economic progress and security are interdependent," Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon written release. "Today, the threat to Central American and Caribbean security comes from an anti-social combination of gangs, drug traffickers, smugglers, hostage takers and terrorists. It is increasingly clear that they can be effectively combated — and are being combated — only by close cooperation among nations. 

"This trade agreement could help usher in a new era of cooperation between our countries and enhanced prosperity in the region," Rumsfeld said. 

President Bush has pushed for the Central American trade pact as a centerpiece to continued economic improvements in the region and to help strengthen the still fragile democracies. U.S. officials are working to deepen relations with Latin America and the nations of the Caribbean. 

Many of these nations have made transitions from dictatorships to democracies and continue to strive to improve economically.

Many members of the construction crew at the Pentagon come from Central American nations. After the ceremonies, several of the hard-hatted workers met with their presidents.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 12, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 93

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Fate of trade agreement
far from certain in U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush is to welcome the leaders of five Central American nations plus the Dominican Republic to the White House today to press the case for the Central America Free Trade Agreement. The accord would lower trade barriers among the seven countries, in hopes that closer commercial ties will boost the economies of all nations involved. 

But the pact's fate is far from assured in the U.S. Congress, which must approve the measure before it can go into effect. 

The battle over the trade pact has begun. This week, the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic took the unusual step of crisscrossing the United States to personally lobby business groups and politicians on the accord's behalf.

On Capitol Hill, backers of the trade deal say the United States has nothing to lose from the pact, known as CAFTA, and everything to gain. At a news conference, Sen. Charles Grassley from the agriculture-rich state of Iowa said the accord will tear down barriers to U.S. exports.

"Today, over 99-percent of the food and agricultural products that we import from the region is duty-free.  Meanwhile, our food and agricultural exports are hit with tariffs averaging 11 percent, with some tariffs ranging as high as 150 percent," he noted.

Standing next to Grassley was Bob Jones, representing the giant U.S. conglomerate Kraft Foods. 

". . . 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States. If we are going to continue to expand our business, exports are key. And about 46 million consumers live in six CAFTA countries," he added.

U.S. grocery products lobbyist Manly Molpus says the trade pact will bring long-term benefits.

"The Central American region is an attractive market to us. These countries are comprised of young, growing populations, and as incomes rise, consumers in these countries will likely switch from basic staples to more value-added products. And as they do, we want to be there with our well-known [product] brands," he explained.

The pact is designed to foster U.S. investment in Central America and strengthen intellectual property protections. It follows the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico, and is seen as an intermediate step toward a proposed hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas.

But if U.S. business interests are lining up in support of the trade pact, organized labor, environmentalists and other advocacy groups stand firmly opposed.

The secretary treasurer of America's main labor federation, Richard Trumka, denounced the agreement at a Capitol Hill rally Tuesday.

"America is losing good jobs due to bad trade deals," he said.  "And America's manufacturers cannot compete because the deck is stacked against them. Over the past four years, more than 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared."

The head of the U.S. steelworkers' union, Leo Gerard, said the trade pact is a bad deal for everyone except major transnational corporations.

"CAFTA would lower labor standards, it would lower environmental standards, it would lower living standards," he added.

Across Central America, farmers, laborers and students have demonstrated against the pact, arguing that local small-scale enterprises cannot compete with their giant U.S. counterparts.

Dominican union organizer Rafael Abreu traveled to Washington to voice his concerns.

"What we need is a new world equilibrium, where there are good-quality, decent jobs that allow people to live with dignity," he explained.  "A trade deal of this sort that impoverishes workers will only cause more people in countries like the Dominican Republic to migrate illegally to the United States."

U.S. sugar producers also object to trade provisions that would relax U.S. import quotas on the commodity, which many countries can produce more cheaply than the United States. But Kraft Foods representative Bob Jones says it is vital that no country be allowed to take an industry or sector off the table if the trade deal is to succeed.

"As a country that enjoys the world's strongest economy, our message to other countries simply cannot be that we are only interested in free trade in those goods and services in which we maintain a competitive advantage," said Jones.

The legislatures in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have already approved the agreement. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic appear to be awaiting U.S. action on the pact before proceeding themselves.

In Washington, Congress is expected take up the measure within several weeks. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush has two goals: expanding trade and "leveling the playing field" for U.S. goods. He says the Central American trade pact accomplishes both. 

Mexico rejected fans
for Saprissa game

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of México denied entry to 37 Costa Ricans who arrived there Tuesday, ostensibly to cheer on the Saprissa soccer football team.

The Deportivo Saprissa  had a game date with the Mexican team Pumas. Mexican immigration officials were not impressed by the preparation of the fans who were turned back.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said Wednesday that employees of the Costa Rican Embassy in México City had contacted Mexican immigration officials at the Benito Juárez Airport.

The immigration officials said that 25 Costa Ricans who had tickets to the game and arrangements to stay overnight in the area were admitting. But the 37 who were turned back underwent interviews with Mexican officials, who said the fans had no idea where they would get tickets or with whom they would be staying.

Many had contradictions in their accounts, the Mexican officials told the Costa Ricans, said the ministry.

Those fans who were let in witnessed the Saprissa team lose, 2-1, Wednesday night but still take the championship of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football on accumulated points.

Exposition of wares
set for Playas del Coco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hotel, real estate, construction and food providers will be on display this weekend in Playas del Coco on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said that Coco was chosen for the event because of the large concentration of businesses and services available there and the number of developing hotel and housing projects.

Nearby are Ocotal, Playa Hermosa, Playa Panamá, Papagayo, Tamarindo, Flamingo, Portrero and others.

In addition to the business displays, visitors who come during the event Saturday or Sunday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. will be able to sample some of the typical foods and drinks provided by the exhibitors, said the institute.

There also will be folk dancing and traditional music from the Guanacaste area. More than 30 exhibitors are expected, the institute said.

The event is being called Expo Costa de Oro 2005. The site is Servicios de la Costa C&B on the main street of Playas del Coco next to the local pharmacy.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Three grabbed after bags are snatched from foreigners in Parrita
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police may have made inroads into a gang that preys on foreign tourists and steals their belongings.

Tourists have been plagued from Sámara on the far Pacific coast to La Fortuna de San Carlos by slick thieves who grab bags, portable computers and other valuables.

That’s what happend to U.S. citizens Wednesday while they were eating lunch at a restaurant in the seaside town of Parrita, said a report from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. 

The foreigners told police that someone had swiped their bags from the restaurant.

The Fuerza Pública mounted a sweep and encountered three suspects in Jacó up the coast an hour later.

The Dirección General de Migración said that none of the three men, Colombians, had registered a legal entry into the country. Officials suspect the men entered illegally.

The three, identified by the last names and ages of Solano, 19, and brothers Alcate Jozaro, 18 and 30, were ordered held for investigation by the Juzgado Contravencional of the Cantón de Aguirre.

Visitors to a number of tourist towns have been victims of a ring of theives who sometimes clean out their hotel rooms just minutes after the victims arrive. Theft in public places is a continual problem, despite security mounted by hotels and restaurants.

Man called key figure
in stolen cycle ring

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained a 55-year-old man in San Gabriel de Aserrí Wednesday and said he was a major dealer in stolen motorcycles,

Confiscated were all sorts of documents used in the registration and sale of vehicles. Many were altered, said agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The man even had a notary seal with which documents could be authenticated, said agents.

Also found were revisión tecnica vehicle inspection stickers, also false, said agents.

Judicial Investigating Organization photo

U.S. begins to move against Genesis Fund figures
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men associated with the defunct Genesis Fund were taken into custody Wednesday based on a criminal complaint from prosecutors in California.

The Genesis Fund, which was located in Sabana Sur, closed up shop in 2002, leaving some 1,100 investors high and dry to the tune of $50 million or more.

Arrested Wednesday were John Sherman Lipton, 56, of Tanglemar, the upscale residential area on the southern Nicoya Peninsula; Victor Preston, 65, of Sabana Norte and Richard Leonard, also of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Lipton has been arrested here before. Two years ago he was detained briefly based on a complaint from the prosecutor in Pavas. 

That allegation is believed to have originated with an investor who said he lost $900,000 with Lipton’s investment firm.

The status of that case could not be determined Wednesday night.

Genesis Fund was supposed to be involved in trading foreign currency. It was one of those high-interest funds that ran into trouble about the same time that the Brothers Villalobos closed up their high interest operation. The tightening money policy of the United States and international banks was believed to be one 

of the reasons. The policies were changed after the terrorist attacks in the United States Sept. 11, 2001.
Lipton’s firm was believed to be paying about 40 percent to investors.

Mention of the Genesis Fund began appearing during investigations by Internal Revenue Service agents in the United States. In one case, a tax shelter promoter put money from clients into trust investments with The Genesis Fund, which claimed at that time to be an unregulated private investment fund based in Orange County, California.

The fund said it engaged in foreign currency trading through offshore brokerage accounts maintained in Hong Kong, Macau, and elsewhere. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central district of California, potential investors were told that Genesis was extremely profitable, that it did not operate under the jurisdiction of any federal or state agency in the U.S., and that it did not report its investors' accounts to the IRS. 

The outline of several cases in the U.S. courts in California suggest that investors could put money into Genesis to hide the funds from the U.S. government. Then they would have full use of the funds via overseas accounts.

U.S. legal action against Lipton and his associates was expected. They are expected to face extradition.

Latin-Arab summit ends with eye on U.S. and Israel 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILÍA, Brazil — South American and Arab nations ended their two-day summit in this Brazilian capital Wednesday.  South American representatives talked mostly trade during the summit while Arab representatives focused on U.S. and Israeli policy.

South American and Arab nations ended their summit with a call for an end to terror, a ban on nuclear arms and greater economic cooperation. 

The host of the meeting, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said the talks marked a new beginning for relations between the two regions. He also had a message for the people of Iraq. 

Da Silva said he wants to wish the people of Iraq all the luck in the world. He said the Iraqi people had the opportunity to build a country based on democracy and development. 

During the summit, South American leaders spent much of their time discussing commerce and ways to boost 

trade with Arab nations. Arab representatives, on the other hand, focused on U.S. and Israeli policy in the Middle East. 

The joint declaration issued by the 34 nations in attendance attempted to create a unifying theme for their talks. The 15-page Brasilia Declaration calls for closer cooperation between the two regions on their common goals for economic and social development. 

It also calls for a ban on nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction and denounces all forms of terrorism. 

The participants also expressed their concerns about U.S. sanctions against Syria, called for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including those in East Jerusalem.

Though tough on terrorism, the declaration reaffirms the right of people to resist foreign occupation in accordance with the principle of international legality in compliance with international humanitarian law. 

Around-the-world scavenger hunt winners named
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Lisa Hunt of Chicago, Ill., and her teammate, Helen Qubain of Brussels, Belgium, were named The World’s Greatest Travelers in New York City Saturday after winning a 22-day around-the-world scavenger hunt and travel adventure competition called GreatEscape2005: The Global Scavenger Hunt.

 "We’re thrilled, surprised and absolutely gratified," said Ms. Hunt, a 39-year old account executive from Chicago after winning the Third annual around-the-world travel adventure competition. "We worked hard together, depended on the kindness of strangers in strange lands, and trusted our combined travel instincts. It was a challenging 25,000-mile international treasure hunt, but we survived and right now I feel numb."

GreatEscape2005 touched down on four continents and visited 11 countries over the three-week period between April 15th and May 7th, that took it’s contestants on their international treasure hunt from Los Angeles to New York City — the long way! The teams of two were required to seek out and answer cryptic clues that sent them on to other more challenging cultural scavenges on the global quest, ferret out the answers to locate places and do unusual things, all while eating exotic foods and experiencing bizarre local festivals.

"I felt confident that I could win this event," said Ms. Qubain, a Brussels-based communications consultant who regularly travels the globe for business and pleasure. "Lisa and I had never met prior to the trip, but all the stars were aligned, and we figured out a great working relationship to solve all the clues, puzzles and scavenges. We literally went on a blind date with the world together, riding elephants and camels, and 

we beat some very hardy and well-traveled international competitors. I’m amazed and happy, but thoroughly exhausted…and need a relaxing vacation from my vacation!"

Ms. Hunt and Ms. Qubain were named The World’s Greatest Travelers and presented with twin crystal trophies after completing almost 350 global scavenges and collecting over 6,600-points for their efforts. 

Their nearest competitors, Pat and Paul Buescher, a working husband and wife travel writer and photographer couple from Portland, Ore., were just 250-points behind the winners. 

The 2005 events’ twin sponsors, Eagle Creek and Lonely Planet, helped outfit the Teams with travel gear, and assisted in creating some engaging scavenges that will be published in future guidebook editions. All the teams participating in this annual travel adventure competition were helping to raise funds towards a $1 million goal for organizations like: Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, CARE, the World Monuments Fund and the International Special Olympics, among others.

"They say that the third time's a charm, and our third event turned out to be a great global competition, a great international treasure hunt," said William D. Chalmers, travel book author and the annual event’s director. 

"The Global Scavenger Hunt is a true cultural immersion and travel adventure competition that challenges our competitors to solve some really neat cultural puzzles along the way of their international quest. We believe that travel brings people closer together, fosters global understanding and improves compassion for all involved," said Chalmers. 

Jo Stuart
About us
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