DO you everwonder what thediplomats and staffat the U.S. Embassydo? What kindsof programs theU.S. Governmenthas in Costa Rica?What kinds of servicesthe embassyprovides to U.S.citizens living in orvisiting the country?How the embassy might help in a naturaldisaster, if you lose your passport or ifa family member dies? How to get a visa tovisit or study in the United States?If so, we hope we can help answerthose questions.This is the first installment of a monthlycolumn that will address frequentlyasked questions and provide informationon various activities and programs of theU.S. Embassy in San José.WE hope this becomes a mechanismfor an open and productive exchange ofinformation with readers of The TicoTimes. Please submit your specific questionsto: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will select questions of interestto the widest audience for publicationin future columns. Embassy staff willattempt to answer other questions by forwardingthem to the appropriate section fora direct response.We appreciate the cooperation of TheTico Times in helping us launch this dialogue,and we look forward to an ongoingconversation with you, the readers, and thepublic we serve.–Douglas M. BarnesChargé d’Affaires, a.i.What will U.S. President George W.Bush’s policy be toward Latin Americaduring his second term?Assistant Secretary of State forWestern Hemisphere Affairs RogerNoriega outlined in recent remarks “a freedomand opportunity agenda for theAmericas.” He acknowledged popular dissatisfactionin the region and noted “Ourchallenge is clear: to help the region’selected leaders make good on the promisethat democracy and the free market willtransform their peoples’ lives for the better.”The United States is promoting reformsto ensure greater civic participation, moretransparency and greater accountability ingovernments throughout the Americas. Wetherefore advocate the decentralization ofpolitical power, the improvement of accessto the political process, and more governmenttransparency in the region. To bolsterindividual empowerment, U.S. policies inthe region must confront the problems ofpoverty, illiteracy and insecurity.Noriega said, “We believe that if thepoorest and weakest among us have thetools to claim their fair share of politicalpower and economic opportunity, thishemisphere will be more stable, moresecure, and more prosperous.”When I’m visiting Costa Rica, do Ialways have to carry my passport?While as a U.S. citizen you need yourpassport to enter and exit Costa Rica, youdo not need to carry it with you on a dailybasis. Because of the large number ofthefts of foreign passports in Costa Rica,the General Immigration Administrationnow permits foreign tourists to carry a photocopyof their passports as they tour CostaRica, allowing them to leave the originaldocuments in a secure location, such as ahotel safe.The U.S. Embassy recommends thattourists carry with them a clear, legiblephotocopy of the biographic-data page ofthe passport, and of the page showing theCosta Rican entry stamp. Please note, however,that the original passport must be easilyaccessible to the tourist, if Costa Ricanofficials request to see it.What do I do if my passport is lost orstolen?If your passport is lost or stolen, youwill need to come to the Consular Sectionof the U.S. Embassy in Pavas, in westernSan José, to apply for a new passport.Public hours are: Monday through Friday,8 a.m.-11:30 a.m., and on Mondays only, 1p.m.-3 p.m.If your passport is stolen, the embassyrecommends you file a police report,which is sometimes required for insurancepurposes and which will help the embassyand Costa Rican authorities identify areaswhere passport thefts occur most.All non-emergency passport applicationsmust be sent by the embassy to theNational Passport Center for printing, andit may take up to two weeks for the passportto arrive at the embassy for you topick up. These passports, incorporatingenhanced security features such as photodigitizedimages, are state-of-the-art. Thepassport fee is $85.The embassy can issue passports in oneor two days in emergency cases. Pleasenote that for security reasons, U.S.embassies are permitted to issue emergencypassports after embassy work hoursonly in cases of life or death. Such passportshave limited validity, and cannot beextended. Bearers may exchange their limitedvalidity passports, at no additionalcharge, for a full-validity photo-digitizedpassport upon completion of their emergencytravel, either through a passportfacility in the United States or a U.S.Embassy or Consulate abroad.INFORMATION about applying for aU.S. passport, as well as about other topicsof interest, can be found on the U.S.Embassy’s Web site: usembassy.or.cr. Weencourage you to visit the site, which isconstantly updated, and to let us know ifyou have suggestions for information toinclude on it, by contacting: email@example.com. We also encourageyou to visit the Bureau of Consular Affairspage on the U.S. Department of State’sWeb site: travel.state.gov.