Your daily English-language news
at the speed of
Has the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte got a deal for you.
For a mere 25 colons more, you can breeze through the toll booths in a special, fast moving lane starting Wednesday.
The ministry, which runs the toll booths, has been having trouble keeping traffic moving since the passenger car toll went up to 75 colons from 60 two weeks ago. Ministry officials have said that drivers are challenged to find coins amounting to 75 colons.
That’s the explanation they gave for the sometimes 20-minute wait motorists experienced to pay the toll on the three main autopistas in the metropolitan area.
If the agency that approves fares had only allowed the ministry to charge 100 colons, lines would have moved much faster, officials lamented.
Meanwhile Herman Hess, the regulador general, said that the analysis by the Authoridad
|Reguladora de los Servicios del Público
determined a higher toll was not justified.
The tolls cover the autopistas Florencio del Castillos between San José and Cartago, General Cañas west of town to the Juan Santamaría Airport and Próspero Fernández from San José to Santa Ana.
Hess said that the increase authorized amounted to 700 million colons or nearly $2 million over the course of the next year. The money should be used for road maintenance, he noted. An increase to 100 colons is just not justified by the fact, Hess said. The increase would have been 66 percent if the ministry had its way.
Javier Chaves, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, said the 100-colon lanes would be voluntary. Officials also said some technical changes might speed up the payment of toll within 10 months to a year. They are looking at automatic debit cards.
The net effect of the ministry offer is to reduce by one the lanes for payment of the toll in favor of creating one lane where the motorists voluntarily pay more money for a speedier trip.
|Real hits record low
amid election scare
By A.M. Costa Rica news wire services
BRASILIA, Brazil — The currency here has hit a record low against the U.S. dollar, as financial markets reacted to weekend opinion polls showing a possible first round election victory next month by a leftist presidential candidate.
The Brazilian real traded at 3.57 to the U.S. dollar, it's lowest level since July 31.
The value of the Brazilian real began sliding at the start of the day on currency markets and even a central bank intervention did little to stop the plunge. At the close of trading Monday, the Brazilian currency had surpassed its previous record low reached on July 31, when it closed at 3.47 reals to the dollar.
As in July, market anxiety over next month's presidential election appears to be the main cause. A weekend poll showed Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, the candidate of the leftist Workers' Party, close to winning a first round victory in the October sixth election.
The poll, by the firm Datafolha, showed Da Silva with 44 percent of the vote, compared to 19 percent for his nearest rival, the government's candidate Jose Serra. Financial markets have shown a preference for Serra, who is considered more likely to follow the current government's economic stabilization policies.
By A.M. Costa Rica news wire services
GENEVA — The International Committee of the Red Cross says Colombia's internal strife is causing a dramatic increase in the number of homeless people in the country. Red Cross officials say tens of thousands of homeless people in Colombia are almost totally dependent on outside assistance.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says fighting between rebel and paramilitary groups in Colombia has steadily intensified since the beginning of the year.
It says human rights violations against civilians are increasing, because neither the rebels nor the paramilitary groups make any distinction between the civilians and the people they are fighting.
Yves Giovannoni, the head of Red Cross operations in Latin American, says more people in rural areas are fleeing their homes and heading for the urban areas, where between one and two million displaced people are destitute.
"The biggest humanitarian problem in Colombia are these people, long-term IDPs [internally displaced people] with no prospect of going back," said Giovannoni.
"And this is an issue that ought to be addressed as soon as possible because, as I just described to you, it is increasing, it is increasing. I mean it is getting [to be] a humanitarian time bomb."
Giovannoni says the influx of tens of thousands more displaced people into crowded cities will increase the pressure on local services and the need for emergency assistance.
The Red Cross expects that by the end of the year it will need resources to assist almost 200,000 displaced people, thousands more than the organization originally expected to have to help.
Because of the increase, Giovannoni says the Red Cross has had to scale up its appeal for Colombia to almost $22 million, about $4 million more than originally asked.
Uribe visits Washington
By A.M. Costa Rica news wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is here for his first state visit since assuming office in August. During his four-day visit, he is expected to seek more support from the United States to fight narcotics trafficking and leftist guerrillas in his nation. The Colombian leader is also seeking help with his nation's crushing debt load and other economic problems.
President Uribe's first official visit to Washington is aimed at shoring up support from the Bush administration and congressional leaders and countering critics who fear U.S. aid will lead to more human rights abuses in Colombia. The Colombian leader is expected to ask for more help in ending his nation's 38-year civil conflict.
He is also expected to ask international lending institutions for more understanding and flexibility. In a nationwide broadcast speech Sunday, Uribe said Colombia will continue to pay its massive debt, but that it must also meet social obligations.
He said Colombia will continue to service its debt in order to maintain its access to credit, the loss of which, he said, would be devastating for the nation's future. But, he stressed, the international financial community should understand that he has to also pay social debts in a nation where there is so much misery.
President Uribe will meet with leaders of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank while in Washington. Uribe has promoted tax increases, budget cuts and public finance reform in Colombia, but he has also shifted an additional $1 billion a year to the military.
On Saturday, President Uribe created two large zones in Colombia where the military will have broad new powers and civil liberties will be restricted.
President Uribe is scheduled to meet with both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington on Wednesday. The Bush administration has given Uribe strong backing for his war against insurgent groups.
Washington has provided $1.5 billion in military aid to Colombia in recent years to fight narcotics. Within the past few months, the United States also began providing anti-insurgency help and training for soldiers protecting Colombia's oil pipelines.
After his discussions in Washington, President Uribe will go to New
York where he will meet with investors and representatives of the U.S.
corporate world. He is to return to Colombia on Thursday.
Argentina aims to make
By A.M. Costa Rica news sources
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The Economy Ministry said it will meet all its U.S. dollar foreign debt payments due in September by tapping into this country's central bank reserves.
The Economy Ministry said the country has almost $329 million due in September to international lending organizations.
The Economy Ministry also said it will continue to negotiate a rescheduling of the country's huge foreign debt load with the International Monetary Fund. The government hopes to delay its debt repayments until 2004 to give the economy some breathing room.
Argentina is mired in a crippling recession that has sent unemployment
and poverty rates soaring. President Eduardo Duhalde has been unable to
reach an accord with the IMF and has called for early elections in March.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BUENOS AIRES, Argetina — A judge in here has granted former president Carlos Menem a stay in a federal investigation where he faces perjury charges for omitting a Swiss bank account from a sworn personal income statement.
Menem's attorneys presented a written request to Judge Norberto Oyarbide to delay Menem's testimony.
If found guilty, Menem could face up to two years in prison and would be prohibited from holding public office.
Menem is currently campaigning for his party's nomination for the 2003 presidential elections.
Menem had long denied the existence of any foreign accounts, but he
finally confessed to owning the account that he said has only $600,000.
Draft plan issued to
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board has issued a draft plan for upgrading security protections for the nation’s cyberspace infrastructure.
The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace describes initiatives to secure U.S. information systems against deliberate, malicious disruption and to foster an increased national resiliency, according to the report’s introduction.
The strategy emphasizes that protection of the nation’s information technology infrastructure is not a job that government can do alone, but one that requires the cooperation and diligence of home computer users, business users, and state and local governments.
The plan has been in the making for a year, and is still a work in progress. The version released Sept. 18 is a draft, and the board is still accepting public comment on how the strategy should be further amended.
The board plan is an adjunct to the nation’s homeland security plans. The authors say a wide range of characters threaten the critical information infrastructure that supports all business, government and public safety systems.
The report also notes thousands of millions of dollars in losses suffered by businesses over the last year when their computer systems were temporarily disabled by viruses and worms set loose through cyberspace.
|Free trade is focal
of U.S. agenda
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas is the "centerpiece" of the United States' trade agenda for the Americas, said Peter Allgeier, deputy U.S. trade representative.
In remarks before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States Thursday, Allgeier reiterated the United States' commitment to the trade process, outlined the different dimensions of U.S. trade policy and explained the significance for the hemisphere of the Trade Act of 2002, signed by President George Bush in August.
Allgeier opened his remarks by stating that the United States is "absolutely committed" to the establishment of the Free Trade Area, which will encompass the 34 nations of the hemisphere by January 2005.
He noted that trade agreement talks are entering a very important phase, as negotiators attempt to determine the "path to free trade" by establishing timelines for reducing and removing tariffs and advancing other market-opening initiatives.
If the trade agreement process is ultimately to succeed, Allgeier said, the great differences in levels of development around the region and the differences in size among the hemisphere's economies must be recognized.
He added that assistance must be provided to the smaller, less developed nations to ensure they can participate fully in negotiations and implement the reforms necessary to benefit from the trade accord. Allgeier emphasized that the United States is actively involved in these capacity-building efforts.
Consultations between Brazil and the United States on assuming co-chairmanship of the trade agreement process on Nov. 1 are already underway, according to Allgeier. He said that Robert Zoellick, U.S. trade representative, will meet with Celso Lafer, Brazil's minister of foreign affairs, in Washington today, as part of this process.
Co-chairing trade agreement talks should strengthen U.S. relations with Brazil and prove useful in advancing the trade area process, he explained, because as co-chairs of the trade area, "the two largest countries in the region will have a stake in its success."
Also on the United States' regional trade agenda for the Americas is a free-trade agreement with the five Central American nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. Allgeier said that the United States has begun preliminary procedures to establish talks, and formal negotiations may begin toward the end of 2002, with an agreement forthcoming in 2003.
Beyond regional agreements, there are also global and bilateral dimensions to the U.S. trade agenda, Allgeier observed.
Allgeier said that the United States' simultaneous bilateral, regional and global trade talks are mutually reinforcing, facilitating a competition in liberalization wherein nobody wants to be left at a competitive disadvantage.
He added that progress in one set of talks can also bring progress in
other talks by establishing precedents. He cited the advancement of agriculture
reform as a potential example.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Governments from the Western Hemisphere's 34 democratic nations are cooperating more than ever to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs in the region, said the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In a statement released following a Sept. 16 through 18 hemispheric drug czar conference held in Reston, Virginia, the office said participants discussed ways in which countries in the region can prevent drug use before it begins, heal addicted drug users, and disrupt the market for illegal drugs.
John Walters, office director, said the nations represented at the conference "understand the devastating impact drug abuse has on communities throughout our hemisphere and the necessity for a balanced drug control policy."
He added that "drug consumption and trafficking bring violence, misery and addiction throughout the world."
Walters said the drug czars at the conference explored concrete ways to attack the economic basis of the illegal drug trade.
The office said the event yielded a number of positive results, including the issuance of an alert on the dangerous proliferation of synthetic drugs in the hemisphere, and a proposal that the Organization of American States convene an annual technical research conference to develop national and regional drug abuse prevention and treatment programs based on scientific evidence.
In addition, participants called on Western Hemisphere countries to devote a higher percentage of their national budgets to research on the illicit drug problem.
They also warned of the emergence of transnational criminal entrepreneurs, whose trafficking in illicit drugs of all kinds, and in weapons, illicit profits, terrorism, and women and children for sexual exploitation, "demands significantly increased international police and intelligence cooperation."
The participants also agreed that the organization’s Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism has "shown promise as a useful instrument of international cooperation on the persistent, shared problem of drug trafficking and abuse."
In a Sept. 17 congressional testimony, Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, said the United States has allocated $731 million for the Bush Administration's Andean Counter-drug Initiative in an effort to stem the illicit drug trade and its damaging effects on Colombia and the Andean region.
The three major components of the initiative, Armitage said, are drug crop eradication, interdiction, and alternative development. Because of the U.S. "domestic appetite" for illegal drugs, Armitage continued, the United States has a "responsibility to address the problems our people help create in the Andean countries."
He also said people in the United States spend about $45 billion on illegal drugs each year.
Resident Thomas Ryan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Thomas P. Ryan, a six-year resident of Costa Rica, has died at Blanco Cervantes Hospital in San José, according to friends.
Mr. Ryan lived in Rohrmoser and was for many years the director of mental health for Fairfax county, in the U.S. state of North Carolina. He was a native of Syracuse, N.Y.
A memorial service and scattering of ashes will be held in the near future, friends said.
Mr. Ryan is survived by a sister, Anne Monaghan of Syracuse, and a brother Michael of West Virginia.
Memorial donations may be made to the Angel of Love Foundation for the
support of the Tom and Norman Home for Adults in Guápiles. Donlon
Havener at 282-7794 will handle donations for the foundation.
Language laws: Beyond symbolism?
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
A 72-year old storekeeper in Montreal was told by Quebec’s language police to learn French in order to comply with the province’s language laws.
The Hungarian-born storekeeper has lived in Quebec for 47 years. To conduct business, she must, by law, be able to provide her services in French.
In the U.S., twenty-seven states have passed English-only laws, but their effects have been for the most part symbolic. The situations are of course different. In Quebec, French-speakers see their language under attack not simply by the rest of the English-speaking majority of Canada, but also by the colossus of the South and the U.S.
Surrounded by mostly English-speaking people and with little support from France, Quebeckers have struggled to maintain their language and identity for more than two centuries under very difficult circumstances.
But in the late 70s when the Parti Quebecois won the provincial election, French speakers managed to take charge of Quebec’s political system by wresting power away from an English-speaking elite, which had been in control. The Parti Quebecois eventually started dealing with cultural issues and Bill 101 was passed, a milestone in linguistic laws for the province.
One of the most controversial aspects of the law is article 52, which states that business signs in English can only be half the size of their French translations.
The Hungarian shop owner is not the only one who has been harassed because of Quebec’s language laws. A few years ago a number of businesses in Shawville, Quebec, had trouble with the language police. An agent visited the city and took pictures of store signs. A number of businesses received fines because of linguistic violations.
The Canadian language police have been busy even in cyberspace. A suburban Montreal computer store has been forced to eliminate much of its homepage because it did not provide a French translation. The owner indicated that he will comply with the law but he is angry, particularly since he believes his business is not exclusively in Quebec but in the entire world.
Language laws in the U.S. have been adopted primarily as a response to rising immigration. The goal was to maintain the U.S. as an English-speaking country and send a strong message to newcomers that they need to learn English.
|A closely related phenomenon to English-only
laws has been the voter-driven initiatives, which have virtually eliminated
bilingual education and imposed English-only instruction in California
and Arizona. The message to immigrants has been to learn English and not
expect services in foreign languages.
Aside from their symbolic meaning, English-only laws in the U.S. have had some minor effects in the workplace, where Hispanics have sued their companies for forcing them to speak English on their break.
Companies that adopted English-only laws in the workplace did it because of security or business reasons, yet in some cases they were instigated by linguistic prejudice.
Recently in the state of Georgia, the Hall County Health Department issued a directive which forced employees to speak only English at work. Foreign-language-speaking employees could be disciplined or even lose their jobs. Eventually, the directive was rescinded because it violated freedom of speech.
Overall, though, English-only laws in the U.S. have been mostly pro-forma. Twenty-seven states passed them with the idea that they help reduce immigration and force new arrivals to learn English fast.
Such laws reflect people’s fears about the United States becoming a multi-lingual and multi-cultural society. History teaches us that people will learn and use whatever language they need in order to survive and get ahead.
Although there are some individuals who learn languages for fun, most learn them for their value and the opportunities they provide. If some residents of Quebec don’t view French as a useful language, legislation will only create resentment, particularly if laws are perceived as being petty and meaningless.
Immigrants to the U.S. will learn English not because of the English-only laws but rather because they see value in it. English opens the door to integration into American culture and opportunities that attracted immigrants to the U.S. in the first place.
Language laws, whether designed to protect a minority or a majority language, create resentment and instead of bringing people together, cause ill feelings and divisions. When time is spent on passing language laws, you have to wonder what important issues are not being addressed.
Domenico Maceri teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria, Calif.
MANICORE, Brazil — The state of Amazonas in the north here is the country's last frontier. And, it is attracting increasing numbers of settlers, looking for land to farm.
With the settlers has come environmental degradation, which the Brazilian environmental agency appears ill-equipped to stop.
Wooden houses are going up quickly in the small town, known as Kilometer 180, on the Trans-Amazon highway. Once a simple way station for trucks and buses, the settlement has grown to 3,000 people, twice the number of two years ago.
But Kilometer 180, named for its distance from the nearest city, is almost inaccessible from its county seat. The city of Manicore lies more than 200 kilometers (214 miles) north, through thick almost impassable rainforest.
But settlers, apparently with at least the tacit support of Manicore, are building a road to reach the city. However, the road is illegal. There are no permits to build it. No environmental impact studies were done. Yet it now extends more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) north toward the city. As the road goes forward, settlers follow, burning and clearing the forest to plant crops.
Agents from Brazil's environmental agency, IBAMA, recently tried to stop the road construction. They seized a tractor and other equipment at a camp built at the head of the road. IBAMA agent, Renato Haage, said the camp was well-equipped.
"It had two generators, a TV with a satellite hookup, and weapons. The whole camp was embargoed (closed down), and the tractor was made inoperative. It was being used to build the road and also to bring out logs," he said.
IBAMA agents also recently investigated a second illegal road near Kilometer 180, this one heading south for about 40 kilometers (25 miles). Agents said that road is apparently being used by loggers, and they report there is massive deforestation at the end of the road.
At the IBAMA office in the city of Humaita, Nilo Pires de Oliveira, chief agent, hands out permits to settlers who want to clear their land. Brazilian law limits property owners from clearing more than 20 percent of their land in an effort to slow deforestation. Signs on the wall also warn of penalties for other infractions, including not registering chain saws with the agency.
But Oliveira readily acknowledges he and his agents face a virtually impossible task of enforcing all the regulations, including stopping activities
|such as illegal road-building, logging,
hunting and fishing.
To cover an area of several thousand kilometers, Oliveira said, he has only four agents. He estimates they barely stop 30 percent of the illegal activities that take place here.
"I've been stressed, not by the work, but by what I see needs to be done, but can't do, because of the lack of resources. To see the needs, but be unable to help is frustrating," he said.
With such few resources to enforce the law, it is no surprise illegal roads are being built throughout the Amazon basin. Adalberto Verissimo, an environmental researcher, estimates there are 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) of illegal roads in the region.
Verissimo, who works for the environmental research organization IMAZON, says the federal government can stop the devastation that accompanies the roads by creating more protected areas in the Amazon.
"The main tool in the federal government's hands is to create protected areas, because most of this area in Amazonas is what we call unclaimed land. So it's public land; it belongs to the government. So, the government has the authority to create this area, this protected area," he said.
Verissimo acknowledges such a move is certain to meet resistance from farmers and ranchers, who are now moving into Amazonas. But he said the federal government should make the decision, and enforce it, as the only way to stop illegal roads and preserve the rainforest.
"If the federal government works with the local government, helps them to plan the roads they are building now, that will be a win-win alternative.” Verissimo said.
For now, much of the area beyond Kilometer 180 remains almost untouched, pristine jungle filled with macaws, monkeys and other wildlife.
But for how long is the question. The needs of the settlers in the area are great. Saul Franco Carvalho, a rancher who wants to buy land around Kilometer 180, sums up their mood when he says progress is unstoppable.
"What's going to happen is that the force of the people is going to open up this region. There will be services, education for the children, and the government will have to help," he said.
But if development continues in its unplanned way, Amazonas state will follow the example of its neighbors, and become another region where the future existence of the tropical rainforest is endangered.
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