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These stories were published Thursday, April 1, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 65
Jo Stuart
About us
Cops going on alert for Semana Santa holiday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials are gearing up for another long holiday where the citizens play and the police and immigration officials work.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería said Wednesday that while the main San José offices will be closed next week, Holy Week, the Central Valley staff will be reinforcing border crossings and the two major international airports, Juan Santamaría in Alajuela and Daniel Oduber in Liberia.

The northern border with Nicaragua has heavy traffic all week because many Nicaraguans in Costa Rica travel home for the Semana Santa holiday.

The Dirección General del Tránsito said it would field its force of 720 officers starting Friday night at 10 p.m. where checkpoints would be set up on major routes to detect drunk drivers. The transit police will be redeployed for maximum effectiveness in the beaches and other tourist areas. They are anxious to meet or beat last year’s record when just six persons died on highways during the 10-day Easter holiday. Deaths have been as high as 19. That was in 1999.

Transit officials noted Wednesday that their police force issued more than 12,000 traffic tickets over the Semana Santa holiday in 2003. They estimated that 1.5 million Costa Ricans and tourists will be on the move for the holidays with perhaps 500,000 of these in public transportation.

Ignacio Sánchez, director general of Tránsito, urged all drivers to make sure that at least children had the benefit of seatbelts or special seats for younger passengers.

Most government workers are getting three days of vacation Monday through Wednesday next week. These days off dovetail with the Thursday and Friday national holidays to provide a full week of vacation. Many will get a head start today or Friday. A number of private enterprises will follow suit. Nearly all stores and businesses will be closed at least Friday, which is Good Friday, the day Christ died, in Christian theology.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública also announced that it was redistributing its personnel for the holidays to emphasize places where vacationers would be. The Fuerza Pública has the added responsibility

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
He’s waiting for you. Tránsito officer looks for another vicitim as officials set up a roadblock in San José Wednesday to emphasize their plans for a safe holiday.

of keeping empty homes safe while their owners vacation and to provide protection for religious processions, of which there will be many. The ministry’s period of high alert extends through Monday, April 15.

For motorists one benefit of the holiday will be the elimination of tolls from noon Thursday, April 8, until 6 a.m. Saturday, April 10. The free passage includes the autopistas General Cañas, Próspero Fernández, Florencio del Castillo, Braulio Carrillo and Bernardo Soto.

Transit police said they would be on the lookout for pirate buses that sometimes are used to move undocumented aliens.

Motorists can expect police control points on all the major highways and in and around the major tourist beaches. 

The Cruz Roja, which operates the ambulance and rescue services, will be on full alert, too, and staffed with extra workers, mostly volunteers.

What readers
think about
U.S. Embassy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readers responded when we asked them what they thought of the U.S. Embassy and the service it gives to Ticos and citizens. And it was not all bad.

The most surprising result was how many letter writers insisted that their names not appear with their opinions for fear of possible reprisals. Others seemed to be motivated more by concern over political issues.

So we edited out a little defamation and let the readers have their say. HERE!

Raids result in arrests after wave of robberies
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators made two raids Wednesday and captured three men they said were members of a bold band of robbers who targeted upscale apartment and condo complexes west of San José.

Information still was incomplete, but a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that at least one of the men was either a current or former member of that police force.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, was expected to have comments today.

One raid was in San Sebastian on San José south side. The other was in Barrio Pinto, Montes de Oca. Other members of the band are believed to be in flight. Victims reported as many as eight men who forced or tricked their ways into 

upscale apartment complexes. They were described as well-organized and well-trained.

The band came to the attention of reporters after they beat and bound a resident at a Sabana Oeste complex March 24. A similar robbery took place Friday in Escazú, and Sunday night the band hit a condo complex in Bello Horizonte in eastern Escazú.

The Judicial Investigating Organization spokesman said that there may be many more crimes over the last two months to pin on the band.

The raids took place in the afternoon, and agents still were processing evidence Wednesday night.

The band was particularly troubling for expats because they targeted the type of dwellings where North Americans and other foreigners might live.

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Ortega again invited
to find another home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Costa Rica has reinforced its demand that Venezuelan labor leader Carlos Ortega leave the country.

Ortega’s lawyer asked the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto to reconsider its invitation that Ortega leave. In a letter delivered to the lawyer Fernando Berrocal Wednesday the foreign ministry said that there was a contradiction between Ortega’s status of political asylum and his secret efforts to bring down the government of President Hugo Chavez.

Ortega appeared and spoke at a march over the weekend in Miami, and this made the Venezuelan government unhappy. What probably upset Venezuelan officials the most was Ortega’s statement that he would return to Venezuela to work against the elected government.

Ortega sought asylum a year ago in Caracas. He was the leader of a 66-day strike in December 2002 and January 2003 that attempted to bring down the Chavez government.

Costa Rica first invited Ortega to leave Monday, but his lawyer asked for reconsideration on his behalf. Ortega is out of the country.

Heredia crack source
target of investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents detained two men in San Francisco de Heredia Tueday night and said they were a principal source for crack coaine in the area. Arrested were Guido Chaves Araya, 30, and Cristian Ramírez Calderón, 25.

Agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization based in Heredia said they have been on the trail of the men for six months and learned that Tuesday was a day that they brought their supply to their home. Agents raided the home in Barrio Las Cloacas and confiscated 677 of what appeared to be crack rocks plus about 60 grams of cocaine, they said.

Crack sells on the street for 500 colons (about $1.16) and has continued to diminish in price along with the devaluation of the colon. Tougher border controls at the Costa Rican frontier with Nicaragua and at the southern border of the United States are creating an excess of cocaine in Central America.

Pacheco promoting
Costa Rican tourism

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco is marketing the country as a tourist destination as he travels in Italy.

His efforts already have resulted in a meeting scheduled for April 20 between the Costa Rican ambassador in Rome, Manuel Hernández, and officials of the Alitalia airline to discuss possible additional flights.

Costa Rica would like to see a direct Rome-San José flight. In January the airline Lauda ran a direct flight from Milan to San José and carried some 200 passengers each flight for nine weeks. The suscessful trial might also result in flights to Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste, which is closer to the Pacific beachs.

13-year-old located

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police in San Carlos have located the 13-year-old boy who was the subject of a major search.  The boy, Manuel Salvador Brenes Garcia, was found near the police station in Muelle de San Carlos, officials said. The boy  left his rural home to buy clothes Saturday and did not return home. The circumstances caused officials to suspect foul play, and they searched nearby farm fields extensively since Monday.

Indian classic dance

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The honorary consul of India is sponsoring an evening of Indian classic dance both Friday and Saturday at the Museo de los Niños downtown.

The presentation is under the direction of Shri Durga Charan Ranbir.

The admission for the general public is 3,000 colons, some $7. Reservations can be made with the Auditorio Nacional at  256-5876.

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Our readers make comments on U.S. Embassy here
We asked our readers to express their opinions of the U.S. Embassy here in San José in a news article Wednesday. The embassy Public Affairs Office had responded to our criticisms expressed March 18. Here’s what our readers had to say:

Iraqi war considered

Dear A.M. Costa Rica

I have never attended the U.S. Embassy in San José but am stuck by its use of non-existent security threats as an excuse not to advertise its garage sale. This is a problem that seems to go goes right to the top. We now see that the U.S. government has waged an unnecessary war against Iraq, and in the process turned it into a hotbed of terrorism. 

It would seem that for Americans the danger is not so much terrorism itself, but what their government might do under the guise of fighting it.  In Canada, Canadians are quite tired of the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa telling them how to run their affairs. From what I see in the local press, Costa Ricans feel the same way about their man from Washington. 

Ross Martin 
Bastion of bureaucracy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am sure that you were not surprised by the response your comments elicit from the U.S. Embassy.  Those of us that have had enlightening experiences with this fortified bastion of bureaucracy know all too well that their mission here in no way includes ensuring, defending or otherwise advocating the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness afforded us by our forefathers. 

After all, we are in a foreign land where the perhaps unwritten U.S. taxpayer funded Embassy agenda of coddling future Central American puppets prevails. 

Where you may have been concerned over not having first rights to the purchase of a used forklift, I could not get embassy support in recovering my U.S.-born son who was abducted from our Florida home on Aug. 1, 2001, and brought here to Costa Rica. Imagine that.

 But there is humor in all of this.  Look at the cast of characters that host the annual 4th of July Picnic:  Ambassador John Danilovich whose claims to fame include being a close personal friend of the Bush clan and giving back the Panama Canal to Panamá. When I last appealed for his help in my case, the man was completely oblivious to the existence or conditions of Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International child Abduction. 

Peter Brennan, a man who I have come to think of as the Alexander Haig of embassy public relations. A truly charming gentleman.  Then, my personal favorite of all was Ms. Janet Weber, the Martha Stewart of the consul general set.  I must tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed having her as a neighbor in Trejos Montelegre.  We never saw each other.  I understand that she has now moved on to another post, but I still feel that a statue of this woman should be erected in Costa Rica to commemorate the support, concern and leverage we can count on from our embassy. 

I wonder if the embassy has a hand in ensuring that the absentee ballots of those of us who choose to vote from here, are safely delivered.  That would be a fine service. 

Things did not go so well last time around, and I was contacted by a New York Time reporter who informed me that my Florida absentee ballot was one of those that was not counted.  Could it be that I voted for the wrong candidate?  I wonder.

Ralph Stumbo 
All but one after the fact

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

(1) I have lived here in C.R. permanently for 11 years and a few months, concerning the Annual (?) (Anytime they want, I think) I have only heard about four or five embassy sales and they ALL were after the fact except one of them and when I heard about that one the person that mentioned it to me said "Don't tell anybody else about it." 

I am a 20+ year retired military person and being in the military that long I know a little about these sort of sales, as normally ALL military bases have them, generally once a year and WELL PUBLICIZED in order to get more people to bid higher in order to get as much money as they possibly can. As more money from the proceeds of the sale means they have more money for other things they need within that particular fund. Enough on that item.

 (2) The LACK of TRAINING and/or Professionalism from the security guards is a JOKE. Half of them don't know how to PROPERLY operate some of the equipment (i.e. X-ray machine, hand-held metal detectors, etc.) and the other half (supervisors usually) really don't care, as they only train the people under them when a problem arises. 

Also when reporting where you want to go MOST of the guards (and I use the term VERY loosely) have never heard of the agency, place, etc and they have to make two or three phone calls before they say "okay, no problem," all the time wasting the person's time that is trying to get in. 

I know that the security force is a contract deal and of course the LOWEST bid gets the contract, and you get what you pay for, mostly nicely dressed, incompetent, sometimes polite and SOME times NOT. 

Since this is the AMERICAN or UNITED STATES of AMERICA EMBASSY, ALL of the security force SHOULD be REQUIRED to speak ENGLISH as a prerequisite for the job. After all ENGLISH is the UNITED STATES of AMERICA's Official Language and 90 percent of the American citizens that need help from their embassy don't speak the language of the country they are visiting.

 (3) It is my understanding that an U.S. Embassy's mission is to help it's citizens abroad in foreign countries when the need arises. I also know part of it's mission is to help the U.S.'s image and standing with the particular country they are in. But when U.S. citizens are treated like they are more of a pain to help them than it is to help (in this case) Costa Ricans, get all kinds of business information and/or whatever other types of help they may be asking for. It makes me wonder what are tax dollars are REALLY paying for.

I could on but if this gets published and I get recognized the VERY limited help I already get would diminish even further.

Name withheld
'Reasonable notice’

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read with interest your dialogue with the U.S. Embassy. I can't tell you what the embassy's position is, but I can tell you that the agency I work for sells its old equipment at auction in much the same way.

A piece of equipment can be worn out by my agency's standards because the cost of repair might be beyond our scope, or standards for our equipment might have changed. We are required to give "reasonable" notice for the auction. The question is really, "What is reasonable?" A person who sees the ad is going to deem the notice as reasonable. A person who doesn't see it is going to raise Cain.

It sounds to me as if the embassy is hamstrung by its strange security tactics, which seemingly prevented the staff from advertising the auction sooner. I would ask the public affairs officer who responded to you to explain the reasoning behind these measures. 

If you are trying to sell items to pay for more equipment, and if you are as frugal as my agency, then it seems to me that your supervisors will be indebted to you when you speak up about the values of "more reasonable" advertising.

Sarah Hogan
Rude and snide

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Funny you would ask for comments. I have been holding on to one for a couple of years that I would now like to share: 

In May of 2002 I married a local Tica after dating for over a year. I was thrilled to "adopt" her beautiful 11-year-old daughter in the bargain. 

Wanting to share the U.S. with my new family, I felt applying for immigration status would be the easiest and fastest route.  Our intention was simply to visit a few times over the next several years. 

Having put together all the necessary paperwork and forms, my wife and I made an appointment and appeared at "my" embassy.  After a respectable wait, we approached the window to present our papers. 

The woman, and I think there is only one who "has the power", was condescending, rude and snide as she peered "down" at us through her glasses.  Apparently, since we didn't have hundreds of photos attesting to our love and other "proofs," our marriage and request for status must be a sham.  Her inferred rejections was: "Yea, right, nice try." 

I was mortified and emabarrased of the image this bitter person portrayed of my country. I was also extremely angry. My wife felt humiliated. 

Three months later we went back and applied for tourist visas and a very affable lady was happy to accomadate us.  We have visited the U.S. six times since then. The bitter, burned out, cynical woman we first met should retire or be rotated out to Libya. 

Rick Christensen
Wanted to go to sale

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I think it would by nice to go to the American Embassy with a problem or in need of assistance and actually get to speak to a American. Possible the details of the sale was handled by non-American personnel? Had I known of the sale I would have loved to go. 

Name withheld
Mentions Harken link

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have had dealing with our embassy in Costa Rica . . . I would not give you a dime for what our Embassy does, especially in Costa Rica. They are in bed with the . . . Costa Rican politicians and don't give a damn about U.S. citizens. Unless of course we are talking about Harken Petroleum. I noticed that the embassy jumped right on that deal.  I wonder if it could be because President Bush is now, or used to be, involved with that company.  They sure did not step up to the plate in the Villalobos Brothers fiasco. 

Nicholas C. Allen
No number, no passport

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I went last week to pick up my son’s naturalization document as he has dual citezenship. I then went to the Social Security window to apply for his benefits and Social Security number. He gets benefits as I am disabled. 

This could not be done without getting a passport for him and renewing my wife’s at a cost of some $160. I need a number for him as it is required for my tax form. In the states he gets his number at no charge as it should be. Seems the embassy wants to make a few bucks for themselves when we have no intention to go back for some years to come.

R Viennea 
Playa Potrero
Very positive experiences

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

 My experience with the U.S. embassy has been a very positive one dealing with them on several occasions. My wife (a Filipina) and I were married in Costa Rica. The next day after getting married, on the way back to Quepos, our bag was stolen from the bus. 

The embassy was extremely helpful in helping me obtain a replacement passport (keep your bags with you when ever possible while on the bus!!!!).

In addition to that, they had authenticated our marriage contract the same day instead of standard "come back tomorrow and pick it up." They saved us a trip back and another night at the hotel. 

The Philippine consulate in Costa Rica shocked me that even one existed giving the severe poverty of the Philippines. They were extremely helpful in helping my wife obtain another Philippine passport from the embassy in Mexico. 

Tony Knocker
Start your own country

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Hey Jay:   You once told a reader that if she didn't like your opinion to start her own newspaper, remember? Well if you don't like the U.S Embassy, why not start you own country? 

Dick Tanker 
Disgusted in Escazú
Bit thin-skinned

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Seems Embassy's a bit thin skinned. We felt your observations were right on the money. Keep the faith, continue the good work. Happy Easter from Tamarindo. 

Bruce Hankins
Doesn’t believe government

Dear AM Costa Rica: 

Concerning your article about the embassy sales: I'm 47 years old and have come to the point that I don't believe anything my government tells me. 

1) they start lying to us here at an early age in the United States. in history class they teach us that Columbus discovered America. Then who was Amerigo Vespucci? Leif Ericsson? 

2) They tell us George Washington was our first president. Then who was John Hanson? 

3) Bill Clinton tells us oral sex isn't sex.  How do you explain that lie to your children? 

4) and more recently, weapons of mass dillusion?!?!   My point is that governments lie, and the United States is just one of the biggest lying machines out there. Anyone who believes everything their officials tell them, is an idiot. and the reason for these lies can be traced to the "Tri-lateral Commision." Anyone can research this commision on the Internet to find out why these lies are spun! 

Donald J. Lingl 
Oak Orchard, Wisc.
Feels like a foreigner

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I’d put my comments more in the category of observations than complaint. I don’t care to find my name on a "watch" list the next time I need something.

As an observation, whenever I go to the embassy in Pavas I feel more like a foreigner than I do an American citizen entering American soil.  I don’t mind the security at the gate, I accept reality. But can’t we do away with the heavy glass windows that find us constantly bending over trying to speak through the pass-through tray?  Since I’ve already been searched, can’t we lighten up once we are inside?

And I know Ticos are used to standing patiently in long lines, as we learned to do in California DMV offices, but still . . . .

The main function my embassy has performed for me has been to notarize documents on several occasions.  Now I was a notary in California for many years, and I know how long it takes to notarize a document. The answer is "not very long" and even can be less than a minute with a pre-printed jurat either on the form or attached. 

You look at the person, inspect their ID, put their thumbprint in your book, and have them sign the document and your book.  And the cost is anywhere from free, depending on the document being notarized, to minor.  In most real estate offices, like mine, and title companies, as well as most banks, there was no charge because it was considered part of the service to your customer.

In the embassy here you stand in line not once, but twice. You wait for up to an hour while the jurat is prepared, and the fee is more than a Costa Rican maid earns in a week.  Oh, yeah, and the staff only work mornings.  Since I live in La Fortuna, if I catch the bus at 0530 I can get there in time, assuming no traffic delays enroute, and by the time they finish at the embassy I can catch my last bus home, arriving around 7 p.m.  But if anything slows up my morning bus, it’s an overnight stay.  I was not, to say the least, impressed.

I couldn’t help but reflect that it was a lot like cashing a traveler’s check in one of Costa Rica’s state-owned banks.  I’ve stood in up to three lines and watched them stamp and initial a dozen pieces of paper, whereas when I extend one at a restaurant the waiter looks at my passport and then brings me my change.  I suppose that’s just the way governments work everywhere.

The best part of the visit was departing.  As I passed through the barred gates into the open air I found myself straightening up and saying "free at last, free at last.  Pura vida!"

Please note that this is in no way intended to denigrate the work our embassy employees do in many dangerous situations around the globe, in which service many have been killed by terrorists.  But I think the official who suggested that the sales were not advertised further in advance as a security measure only cheapens the real work being done to make embassy personnel safer.  And if it is so risky for embassy personnel, maybe the work should be outsourced?

Plus if there is even the slightest hint of what you call cronyism, wouldn’t that be easily resolved by the embassy prohibiting their staff from purchasing any of the items?  Take the "Caesar’s wife" approach.  Oh, that reminds me. Since the embassy isn’t really interested in getting top dollar, could we talk some more about those notary fees?  I’m not a rich North American, my Social Security check comes to $713, so when the embassy notarizes two documents for me they’ve eaten up 10 percent of my monthly income.  Good for my diet, probably, so I suppose there is some good in everything.

Which brings up a thought about that fork-lift they sold for $2,220.  Since this isn’t going to put the tiniest dent in reducing the embassy’s budget deficit, and many rural municipalities would put such a machine to good use for the public welfare, even if it was in poor condition — Ticos are geniuses when it comes to repairing machinery — wouldn’t the embassy generate far more good will among the poor natives by donating it, instead?

Gregg Calkins
Very, very pleasant

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am happy to say that my experience with the Embassy here in Costa Rica has been a very, very pleasant surprise! When I have gone there or called, the personnel have been very courteous and helpful. This applies to both the U.S. and Costa Rican personnel that I have had the pleasure to meet.

I say that this is a pleasent surprise, because I lived in Frankfurt, Germany, for over 20 years and ALL  of my experiences with the Americans at the U.S. Consulate and Embassy were either disagreeable or worse. The Embassy here is a pleasent contrast —  thus far!!! I hope that the State Department is no longer making it's employees feel that they are superior to the Americans that have to dealt with them.

William M. Lilly 
San José
Strong arm on TLC

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Kudos to A.M. Costa Rica re: the editorial on auctions sponsered by the  U.S. Embassy. There are other things going on . . .  besides auctions. Visa Applications, meddling and using strong arm tactics re the TLC are two others that come to mind. I agree with you that there does not appear to be anyone in charge over there. 

Bill Sullivan 
San Rafael de Heredia
Two positive contacts

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have had two significant contacts with U.S. Embassy staff in the recent past while conducting business talks in San José and Alajuela. The first was in late January and the second was three weeks ago. In late January while attending an aviation conference, I had the pleasure of meeting the U.S. ambassador (and embassy staff) at a reception at his residence. 

And, earlier this month embassy staff made time to meet with me and an associate for a few hours on very short notice. I want to thank the Commercial Service in particular for their hard work on our behalf. Margaret Hanson-Muse and Victor Cambronero went the extra mile for us. They even arranged for us to attend a couple of evening receptions and meetings of which we were not aware, although these were related to our trip. 

Victor drove us to those events. They are hard working and have the right contacts. While we had limited contact with other embassy staff, I am certain they would have been equally helpful and professional.

Terry Beach 
Belleville, Ill.
Thinks they're arrogant

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Go get 'em, Jay. Those arrogant embassy types have it coming. I mean some have their heart in the right place, but, speaking as a world traveler (including Saudi Arabia) who has dealt with these jackos from the State Department, you'd think that their credentials are gold plated and since they aren't held accountable to the last penny, they leave major bucks in their royal wake.  Go get 'em. 

Dave Grey 
America West Airlines captain
Says it’s the worst

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

What do readers think about the US Embassy in CR???

Or better yet — how can I make an embassy worse than the one in CR???

There are nothing but bureaucrats. I know since I have been there at least 10 times.

First few times for a visa for my wife. The U.S. Embassy treats you like cattle. I stood in line for three hours with a previously made appointment. There were hundreds of clients with only three windows open and sometimes only two.

Now the U.S. can NOT tell me it costs too much for more employees to handle such a crowd. They charge $100 per head for admittance. Say only 100 clients — more for sure — that is $10,000 per day. Holy cow I want that business. So only earning $10,000 per day they still treat me like dirt and I am a gringo!!!!!!!!!! Such arrogance.

Then I called the embassy to inquire on the papers needed for my next visit. I wrote down all, collected all, then presented all. The lady at the window said the papers were not complete. So I showed here my list that I had previous make. She looked at it and said " Those people on the phone are Ticos and total idiots."  How rude and unprofessional. So guess what?? Another appointment with — yes with — another $100 fee.

I have lived in many countries in the world and know personally many of the U.S. Embassies there. The U.S Embassy in CR is the most unprofessional, rude, and easily the worst of all embassies.

Then the embassy has the balls to explain : "For reasons of security, advertisement takes place with only a few days notice — this is a worldwide practice, which is, unfortunately, particularly necessary in today’s security atmosphere"

What if I am a terrorist and see the ad in the paper, I will say " Hmm.  Only two days for the U.S. Embassy auction. Oh not enough time make mayhem so I will do nothing."

And who says the worldwide practice this fews days stuff??? That is not  true at all.

What kind of dolt made that statement. Yeah I know — a government  bureaucrat.

On the other hand, I have had good experiences with the U.S. citizens side of the embassy. Understaffed for sure but they are pleasant and I do not feel like a head of cattle there.

And to top it off — oh this burns me big time — they get U.S. and Tico holidays both off. Where do I sign up for those lazy hours???????

Hey editor you have probably figured out who this is by the email. Please do not print my name since I faxed them three times and emailed them twice with comments in the last two years. I got a canned response with nothing relevant. Sometimes I am not proud to be an American.

Name withheld

Always professional

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have always been treated in a professional manner by the embassy staff. All of my request have been handled correctly. I was not happy with the U.S. Embassy after reading your article. However, I now believe the US Embassy rebutal closes this matter. 

Al Almeida 
Nuevo Arenal
Worries about terrorists

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I think embassies are a terrible waste of money, and there are no real services provided by them except immigration for natives. There are dozens of "burro-crats" that virtually do nothing.  Americans should stay out of them.  They are dangerous.  I cringe for possible danger of terrorist attacks every time I drive by an American embassy, or have to go into one for some reason. 

Name withheld

It’s a profit center

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The Embassy here in Costa Rica acts more like a profit center than a service to U.S. and foriegn  citizens. I have many different experiences with them. All NEGATIVE.

#1 When I moved here I still had four properties that needed to be sold. When they were sold, I needed to have documents notarized at the U.S. Embassy. There was not one in the four times that I did not have to wait at least two hours for someone to come out and stamp something that took two minutes. I was not waiting in line. I was the only person in that room waiting for any service.

#2 I have taken people to get visas. It is more like a lottery. I had taken people that had hardly any of the documents they require and seen them get a visa. I had taken others that had everything they required and were turned down. I hear they turn down well over 50 percent AND all must pay $100  just for a chance to get a visa. Now that you have to have a visa just to travel through the U.S.  They will make a lot more money. I did the math before this new requirement and it appears they  brought in well over $100,000 per month back then, just in visa applications. I would also like to comment on this new requirement of needing a visa, just to travel through the U.S. "Invest in  Copa Airlines stock".

#3 I attended the same auction that you did, I saw the forklift. I wanted to bid on a few computers and a few furniture items. But they wanted a fairly large deposit to bid. Not just to bid but a deposit for each item. Fortunately, I did not bring enough money with me. I am sure picking up my items would have not been worth it if I won. And if I didn't win, I am sure it would have been a nightmare just to get my money back. Now that I know how they operate I will never attend another U.S. Embassy  auction.

I have had dealings with the Russian, Panamian and Columbian embassies here in Costa Rica  and everyone of them was pleasant, reasonable prices for the services performed and done with  courtesy. The embassy staff here in Costa Rica are about as courteous as a U.S. policeman.

I would prefer not to sign my name. In this new world of dominance from the U.S. government, I  fear that just because I have a negative opinion of something they do, I may find myself clasified  as an enemy combatant, apprehended and end up in their Cuba torture chambers.

Fearfully unsigned

Security glitch

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

My wife and I were in CR a month ago and had occasion to visit the U.S. Embassy.  Two interesting situations presented:  (1) The guard at the main gate spoke no English — and I no Spanish — but we found our way in on our own. (2) Even though a "yellow alert" was in effect, my wife entered the gates with no identification and no questions.

Did we miss yours?

We will continue running comments about the U.S. embassy as long as the reader submissions are relevant. At the very least, we think that the federal employees isolated inside the Pavas embassy building need to know what people think.


Lyndon Johnson was ready to back coup in Brazil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A research group has released documents showing former President Lyndon B. Johnson was willing to back the forces that ousted Brazilian President Joao Goulart in a 1964 military coup. 

The independent National Security Archive of George Washington University released the recently declassified documents Wednesday, on the 40th anniversary of the coup. 

The research group says in one document, President Johnson instructs his aides to quote - "take every step we can, be prepared to do everything we need to do." 

The group says the documents include cables sent by the then U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, urging Washington to become directly involved in supporting coup plotters led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Humberto Castello Branco. 

Cables from the ambassador called for "a clandestine delivery of arms" for use by the coup plotters. 

The Archive also released a declassified audio tape of President Johnson speaking with national security aides about the situation. On the tape, President Johnson authorizes then Under Secretary of State George Ball to actively support the coup if U-S backing is needed. 

The research group, however, says U-S military support for the coup proved unnecessary because the plotters succeeded in overthrowing President Goulart much faster and with much less armed resistance than American policy makers anticipated. 

The Archive says the United States viewed Goulart as a leftist closely associated with Brazil's Communist Party. He fled to exile in Uruguay in April 1964. The Brazilian military held power until 1985.

World court slaps U.S. wrist on death row cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The World Court has ordered American authorities to review the convictions and death sentences of 51 Mexican nationals on death row in the United States. This followed the court's finding that U.S. authorities broke international law by failing to notify the Mexicans of their consular rights early in their legal proceedings.

World Court judges stressed that their ruling has nothing to do with the correctness of the convictions and sentences in question.

Rather, they say it was the failure of United States officials to tell the Mexicans, soon after their arrests that under international law they were entitled to contact their consulate for help. Court President Shi Jiuyong read out the findings.

"It is not the convictions and sentences of the Mexican nationals which are to be regarded as a violation of international law, but solely certain breeches of treaty obligations which proceeded them," he said. 

Judge Shi said it is up to U.S. courts to decide if the failure to notify the Mexicans of their consular rights prejudiced their cases in any way. 

Mexico had asked judges to order re-trials.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Clifford Sobel, called the ruling complex. He said the Justice Department will have to review the "fine print." He would not say if the United States will abide by the court's decision, but he pointed out some positive aspects of the ruling.

"We were very pleased that a number of submissions by Mexico were rejected and we were also very pleased with the favorable comments of the court on our compliance program," he said. "With that, we should turn it to Washington, which is the appropriate place to comment."

The United States admits it has not always provided foreign nationals with their Vienna Convention rights to consular access, including two German brothers who were executed in 1999 and who were the subject of similar proceedings here. 

Since then, the United States has taken steps to comply with the Vienna Conventions, including issuing information booklets and pocket cards and conducting training programs aimed at local and federal law enforcement officials. 

The judges called these good faith efforts by the United States to remedy the situation and prevent it from happening again. But they noted that while the ruling was limited to Mexicans, it could apply to other foreign nationals in similar situations in the United States.

Canadian security needs tightening, report says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

OTTAWA, Canada — An independent audit of Canada's national security says the country has not done enough to tighten security at its airports and borders.

The report by Canada's auditor general, Sheila Fraser, says Canadian officials need to take major corrective steps to close security gaps at ports, border crossings and airports. 

The report also cites a lack of coordination among the country's security agencies, and holes in the way government departments communicate.

As an example, the report says information about 25,000 Canadian passports lost or stolen each year is not available to front-line border officers. 

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Canadian parliament allocated $7.7 billion to bolster national security. 

Woman rebel leader sought for U.S. trial on drug charges
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Bush administration has asked Colombia to extradite a detained rebel leader to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. The woman was accused of running a drug trafficking ring for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC rebels. 

The Colombian army arrested Nayibe Rojas, also know as commander Sonia, six weeks ago, deep in rebel controlled territory, about 600 kilometers south of Bogota. Government troops also confiscated her laptop computer, which turned out to be a gold mine of information. 

According to documents leaked to a local newspaper, the hard drive listed phone numbers for drug traffickers. 

Rojas is thought to have managed millions of dollars in drug deals on behalf of the FARC. She was accused of sending tons of cocaine to the United States and other countries. The Colombian military said Rojas was also in charge of distributing rifles and explosives to five rebel groups. 

The United States would like to try Rojas on narcotics charges. If that happens she will be the highest-ranking FARC leader to appear in U.S. courts, marking a major victory in anti-narcotics efforts. She could even provide information on top commanders who were involved in drug trafficking. 

For years, Colombia's illegal armed groups have made huge profits from drug sales, as well as extortion and kidnapping. 

Jo Stuart
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