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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 205
Jo Stuart
About us
Visas, bad attitudes prompt complaints
Travelers and Ticos are miffed at U.S. security
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica
with Wendy Bishop Strebe
special correspondent

The United States might not be the Fortress Amerika that its critics claim, but there is a growing unhappiness among Costa Ricans and foreign travelers. Many feel they are being considered terrorists until proven innocent.

The United States now requires visas from Costa Ricans and others in Latin America even if the traveler is just changing planes in a U.S. airport. 

Places like Miami, Fla., Los Angeles, Calif., and Houston, Texas, are key transfer points. For example, an air trip to Spain from San José would likely be routed through Miami or even New York. Even a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, from San José could be routed via Miami.

In the past, many foreign travelers could pass through the United States to another foreign destination without first obtaining a visa. These passengers could only go through one U.S. airport, and they could not leave the international transit lounge while connecting planes at that airport. 

Aug. 2 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that "recent, specific intelligence indicates that terrorist groups have been planning to exploit these transit programs to gain access to the U.S. or U.S. airspace without going through the consular screening process."

This means that Costa Ricans must spend the time and money to obtain a U.S. visa even if they are just passing through.

Citizens of many European countries still do not need a visa to pass through the United States. Nevertheless, tourism workers here report that the complaints are frequent about U.S. treatment. 

The complaints surface in discussion on the Caribbean coast with visitors from countries such as Germany, Sweden, Holland, Spain, France, who have flown from Europe through Miami, New York or Chicago, en route to San 
Jose.  With few exceptions, the tourists feel that

they have been treated abominably at U.S. airports.

Mercedes Rodriguez from Tenerife, Spain, outlined her experience in Miami.  She said she had to remove her pants because inspectors thought there was some kind of metal in them.   She said she did not mind this as much as the way she was spoken to and treated. 

"They treated me like a terrorist,"  said the young professional woman. She says she will not fly through the United States again and she will not travel to the United States as a destination.

Another tourist was robbed while in San Jose.  His passport was stolen.  He went to the German Consulate and got a certification that he had had his passport and is a legal traveler.  But he still had to purchase a new plane ticket home to Germany.  The United States will not allow him to fly through without his passport, period, his air carrier said.  It does not matter that he was robbed.  It does not matter that he has a legal document providing facts and certifications that should allow him to travel. 

He and his companion had to travel home through Venezuela.  They were upset and angry. 

Tourists Tamara and Susan Griffioen of Amsterdam, Holland, spoke of their  experience.  They said that being searched was not a real problem for them.  The problem was the way they were spoken to and treated.  They didn’t understand the rudeness. 

Susan Griffioen said she has spent well over a year traveling around the world and never was treated the way she was treated at U.S. airports.  Tamara Griffioen lived in the U.S. for a year and said she used to defend the United States when her friends told negative stories. But after her personal experience in Miami, she said she will remain quiet in the future.

The extra security in the United States is a direct result of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001 where passenger planes were used as missiles, however, critics have pointed out that the suicide attackers on the four planes all had valid U.S. visas.

It's time to send us your most scary story
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Remember those scary stories you heard while clustered around the campfire? And the strange forest sounds that punctuated the shivery tales?

Well let’s pretend your computer is a campfire, and let’s get cranked up for the 2003 annual A.M. Costa Rica Halloween story contest. Send us your fiction and non-fiction tales that are related somehow to Costa Rica. We’ll pick a winner and send the writer $25.

And we’ll publish the Halloween stories at the end of the month. We will try to publish as many as we can.

The stories must be original and relate to Costa Rica and also to Halloween, ghosts, specters, witches, goblins or at least a tingly feeling along the spine.

By submitting the stories, the authors give A.M. Costa Rica the non-exclusive right to publish them. Send your story to 


Our staff example is HERE!


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Customs fraud suspect
caught while shopping

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman who has been on the run for a year was caught while shopping Wednesday in the parking lot of the Centro Comercial Novacento in Moravia.

She was identified as Ana Isabel Cárdenas Jiménez, who was an employee of Agencia Aduanera Internacional del Norte S.A., a company that police said played fast and loose with import duties.

Ms. Cárdenas is the last of six persons to be arrested in the case. One person arrested worked at the Registro Nacional. Ms. Cárdenas is believed to have fled to the United States when the company was raised about a year ago. Investigators think she returned recently through Panamá.

The woman was arrested by Fuerza Pública officers, the Judicial Investigating Organization and representatives from the Ministerio Público.

Investigators claim that the customs agency shortchanged the country by some 800 million colons, now about $2 million by presenting receipts that said the merchandise being imported cost less than it actually did. Therefore a lower import duty was paid, agents said.

The five who had been arrested are out on bail, but now that Ms Cárdenas is in custody, the case will move toward trial, agents said.

Pope’s silver jubilee
is celebrated today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY — Thousands of people turned out for the pope's weekly general audience in Rome Wednesday, the day before he celebrates 25 years as leader of the world's Roman Catholics. Pope John Paul II invited everyone to join him for a special Mass this evening to mark the anniversary. 

The pope appeared in relatively good form as he addressed the crowd that gathered in Saint Peter's Square. Just one day before his anniversary, he spoke in a stronger and clearer voice than he has in recent days.

During the audience, he thanked pilgrims for their good wishes and prayers during his quarter century as pope. The Mass tonight will be held at about the same time he first appeared to the world as pope on October 16, 1978.

He was the first non-Italian to be elected in more than 400 years. The pope from Poland was to leave his imprint on the Catholic Church by playing a major role in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In later years, he continued to lobby world leaders for peace, while trying to convince Catholics around the world, especially young people, to follow his conservative ideology.

Costa Rica sent congratulations. Roberto Tovar Faja, the foreign minister, said that Costa Ricans cannot forget the pope’s message of peace delivered in March 1983 here while war still raged to the north.

Police officer dies
in traffic mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Fuerza Pública officer died Wednesday, the victim of a traffic accident in San Antonio de Desamparados.

The officer, Walter Méndez Salas, 62, was riding a bicycle, which was his custom for the last three years to deliver official papers to members of the community. The accident took place at about 10 a.m.

The driver of the car that hit him, identified by the last names of Méndez Azofeifa, remains at liberty while the case is being investigated.

Bandits break in
and tie family up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits raided a house in Guachipelín de Escazú about 8 p.m. Tuesday, tied up the occupants and helped themselves to about $20,000 in household appliances, jewels and cash.

The family that was overpowered was described as foreigners but not North American. The home is located near the Centro Comercial Plaza Famosa, investigators said.

Fox seeks trade pact
in visit to Tokyo

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TOKYO, Japan — Mexican President Vicente Fox has arrived in Japan for talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on a possible free trade agreement between the two countries.

Ministers from both sides have been meeting here over the past few days, trying to work out details of such an agreement. 

The main dispute is reported to be Mexico's demand for a removal of high Japanese tariffs on Mexican pork, a demand that Japan has rejected.

If a free trade agreement is reached, it would be Japan's second. Tokyo previously reached a free trade agreement with Singapore.

Kidnapping rings 
targeted in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Mexican authorities say they have dismantled two kidnapping rings in recent days.  Attorney General Rafael Macedo told reporters Tuesday federal agents arrested 16 people during two raids. 

Macedo said the alleged head of a nearly two decades old kidnapping-for-ransom ring, Liborio Colin Dominguez, and 10 of his associates and family members were arrested Friday. 

He said the crime ring, which had been active since 1984, would videotape hostages being tortured and send the tape to the victim's family in an effort to quickly obtain a ransom. 

Mexico's attorney general said agents broke up a second kidnapping ring Sunday, arresting four Colombians and one Mexican. He said the criminal group has ties to drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia.

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New regional museum sought for Guanacaste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislative deputies have before them a proposal to create a regional museum for Guanacaste financed in part by the exit tax air travelers pay to leave the country.

María Lourdes Ocampo sent the measure to the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Sociales. The proposal would base the museum in Liberia in a facility that had been used by the police comandancia and the Centro Penitenciario.

The museum would not just be a place to display objects of art and artifacts but also a way to raise the culture of Guanacaste to the national and international level, according to a release from the Asamblea Nacional. Ms. Ocampo envisions a place for cultural and artistic diffusion and a place for the exchange of ideas among academics and researchers.

The deputy said that of particular importance was the culture and the daily life of the Amerindias, the Chorotega.

The proposal would generate money by allocating part of the annual budget of the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes. Initially the deputy would like to earmark some 20 million colons or about $49,000 with an increase of 5 percent per year for four years. The ministry budget contains money for other museums and also the national library, the Biblioteca Nacional.

The deputy also wants to tap the money that air travelers pay. Right now the $12.15 exit tax goes to the central government, but there is precedent to make payments to localities in which the airport is located. For example, Alajuela received money from the taxes levied at Juan Santamaría Airport. The proposal also provides for the hiring of a museum director.

Better roads and support sought in Talamanca area
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Talamanca Indians have carried their complaints about bad roads and other problems to the Asamblea Nacional.

Antonio Ayales, executive director of Congress, said Wednesday that Indians from Alta and Baja Talamanca have met with leaders of political parties in the national congress to complain about the way money was managed in their area.

They were particularly critical of the Consejo 

Nacional de Vialidad, which builds and maintains roads. The Talamanca is notoriously inaccessible.

Ayales said that the party leaders agreed to distribute the specific complaints of the Indians among several commissions and subcommissions that have jurisdiction.

The Indians in the area are primarily Bri-Bri and live in scattered settlements in the mountains. The Talamanca area is in southeastern Costa Rica and includes the central mountains and the area along the border with Panamá.



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Adviser Rice promotes Bush's vision of hemisphere
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CHICAGO, Ill. — President Bush's vision for the Americas is that of a fully democratic region that works cooperatively to deepen democracy, advance market-based economic development, and improve security in order to enhance the lives of citizens throughout the hemisphere, says National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

In a speech Tuesday to the Inter-American Press Association, Ms. Rice said that the Bush administration has a strong record and a deep abiding interest in the Western Hemisphere, reflecting the president's belief that "sound American foreign policy starts in our own neighborhood."

Ms. Rice outlined the president's priorities for the region, discussed efforts to achieve these goals, and addressed the challenges confronting Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela. She also cited ongoing work to secure U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, and to promote a transition to democracy in Cuba.

"This president is committed to a hemisphere that is free, democratic, governed wisely, governed without corruption, that trades in freedom, and where growth and prosperity spread," Ms. Rice said in her televised remarks.

In pursuit of those ends, Ms. Rice said, the president has met with nearly all of the hemisphere's heads of state, traveled throughout the region, and looks forward to attending the Special Summit of the Americas in Mexico this January.

At this Special Summit, she said the United States will "emphasize the positive message that democratic governance, sound pro-growth economic policy, and investment in health and education create opportunity for all citizens."

Bush is also "committed to advancing trade liberalization globally, regionally, and with individual nations in order to promote economic development and democratic governance among our trading partners," Ms. Rice emphasized.

She noted that the Bush administration is working to complete a trade agreement with five Central American countries by the end of 2003 and has notified the U.S. Congress of its intentions to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the Dominican Republic.

These initiatives, Ms. Rice said, complement the U.S. goal of achieving a comprehensive Free Trade Area of the Americas.

In addition to reviewing regional initiatives, Ms. Rice examined the challenges confronting different countries in the hemisphere and the U.S. views on overcoming these challenges.

Pointing to the current unrest in Bolivia, Ms. Rice said the United States, the Organization of American States and the international community "must fully support the democratic, constitutional government of Bolivia."

Turning to the subject of Colombia, Ms. Rice stated that the United States "is committed to providing strong economic and security assistance in support of the Colombian people." Moreover, she said that the United States fully supports Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to deal with narco-terrorism, coca and poppy eradication, interdiction of illicit drugs and the extradition of criminals.

Ms. Rice indicated that U.S. officials and the Uribe administration are discussing the concerns of the White House and the U.S. Congress over a proposed law dealing with Colombia's paramilitary groups, but said the final decision on how to handle national reconciliation measures will be up to the Colombian government and the Colombian people.

In her remarks, Ms. Rice also stated the Bush administration's desire for a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution to Venezuela's ongoing political crisis. She said the U.S. is "fully supportive" of OAS efforts to foster such a solution.

U.S. concerns about some of the activities of the Venezuelan government were also noted by Ms. Rice.

"Venezuela does have responsibilities in the hemisphere to fight terrorism, to fight narco-trafficking, and to make certain that it is responsible in its economic activities in the region," she said. "We believe that Venezuela ought to fully live up to the responsibilities that it has to this hemisphere for security and economic prosperity in this hemisphere."

In addition to discussing issues pertaining to the Andean region, Ms. Rice touched upon the United States' collaborative efforts with Canada and Mexico to increase border security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.

She said that Tom Ridge, secretary of Homeland Security, has worked very effectively with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts to institute a "Smart Borders" program that uses technology and cooperation to improve border security without negatively affecting the movement of goods and services. Acknowledging that additional work is needed in this area, Ms. Rice said the United States will continue to make progress on the issue.

Finally, Ms. Rice said the United States is firmly dedicated to a "proactive Cuba policy that will assist the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom." She noted that last week Bush reiterated his goal of "achieving a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba using the dissuasive tools of economic embargo and travel restriction."

Ms. Rice noted that the president also announced Friday the establishment of a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba to be co-chaired by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mel Martinez, secretary of Housing and Urban Development. This commission, Ms. Rice said, "will prepare the U.S. government to assist the Cuban people with an orderly and peaceful transition from tyranny to democracy."

Press group says
freedom under attack

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Inter-American Press Association says freedom of the press is under attack throughout the Western Hemisphere, but that journalists face the most restrictions in Cuba. 

The Inter-American Press Association is a Miami-based organization that represents newspapers throughout the Western Hemisphere. A statement issued following its annual meeting held this year in Chicago singled out Cuba, for jailing 28 journalists earlier this year as part of a crackdown against dissidents. The statement says censorship by the communist government is absolute. 

The association also criticized the government of Venezuela saying government proposals to nationalize media outlets are a threat to press freedom. The group says journalists face regular threats of violence in other countries in the region such as Colombia and Haiti, noting that 10 journalists have been killed in the region in the past six months, five in Colombia, four in Brazil and one in Guatemala. 

The association also says new anti-terrorism laws in the U.S. Patriot Act may also put restrictions on reporters working in the United States. 

New U.S. volunteer program will stress skills
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration's new Volunteers for Prosperity program will complement the Peace Corps by deploying highly skilled U.S. volunteers to serve in flexible-term assignments in developing countries, an administration official says.

The program is part of Bush's Global Prosperity Agenda, said John Bridgeland, director of the USA Freedom Corps. The administration is now recruiting private voluntary organizations that could efficiently place volunteers in well-defined assignments in developing countries and emerging economies for periods of a few weeks to several months, he said. Bridgeland spoke to representatives of approximately 400 organizations meeting here Wednesday.

Volunteers will have skills in areas such as health care, information technology, financial services, trade and investment, education and agricultural development, according to a U.S. Agency for International Development  fact sheet. They will work on U.S. development initiatives including the Digital Freedom Initiative, the Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Trade for African Development and Enterprise Initiative, the Water for Poor Initiative and the Millennium Challenge Account.

Bridgeland encouraged the organizations represented at the meeting to register online for the program at: www.vfp.gov. Forty-two groups 

have registered so far, he said. The Web site also contains information for people interested in volunteering, he added.

As the Peace Corps has demonstrated, Andrew Natsios said at the meeting, U.S. volunteers sharing their time and skills in villages and poor urban areas overseas illustrate the generous and democratic U.S. spirit. He is the admininstrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The administration wants to rapidly expand Volunteers for Prosperity and more than double the Peace Corps' ranks to 15,000 volunteers, Bridgeland added.

Volunteers for Prosperity will use many of the methods the Peace Corps has developed over its 41 years to recruit and manage volunteers, said Bridgeland. The Agency for International Development will act as the program's coordinator, working both with private volunteer organizations and the various parts of the government that have offices devoted to strengthening ties with the organizations, Natsios said. USA Freedom Corps will recruit the volunteers.

The volunteeer organizations that Volunteers for Prosperity wants to recruit include non-proselytizing religious and community-based organizations, Michael Magan, director of the agency’s office of faith-based initiatives, told the meeting. He said his office is working to remove barriers religious-based groups face when competing for agency funding.

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