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Jo Stuart
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 2
Saturday night muggers active again in downtown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new wave of muggings has hit the Avenida 1 area, and a local businessman says he was lucky to avoid being another victim.

From four to seven persons who look like North American tourists have been targeted by a trio of bandits during the last three months. The assaults always happen in mid-evening, usually Saturdays, and the attack begins with a quick, disabling chokehold.

The robberies are unusual because the criminals seem to restrict their activities to a two block area on Avenida 1 on either side of Calle 5. That is well within the Zona Rosa frequented by tourists, but in every attack the victims report that no police are evident in the area.

Many of the attacks go unreported because the victims say they doubt any action will be prompted by their formal complaint. 

The latest attack took place Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. when the local businessman, who specifically asked that he not be identified, was walking west on the south side of Avenida 1 and had just crossed Calle 5.

"They just know we’re gringos and we’re alone and they assume we are drunk," said the businessman. The man, a night worker, said he was not drunk and was headed to a nearby Pizza Hut outlet for dinner.

The man said he only saw a short, older man standing on the southeast corner of the intersection and that he checked in all directions before crossing the street. Suddenly from nowhere a man had him in a choke hold around his neck. He came from behind, perhaps from around the corner from a hiding spot on Calle 5 and he "attempted to choke me until I passed out," said the victim.

But the businessman did not go quietly. "I think instinctively I turned my head around and my right elbow went up and into his solar plexus," the man said. Then a second mugger approached. But the businessman kicked out and may have hit the second man.

As the struggle continued, the second man broke and ran south on Calle 5, and the first mugger rolled his way free from the businessman’s grasp and ran west and entered the Omni Building that was filled with moviegoers awaiting the 9:45 p.m. show.

The businessman said he thinks the older man on the corner was spotting for the muggers because when the businessman began to follow the fleeing mugger, the older man yelled: "He’s got a knife." Later, the businessman wondered how the older man would know this and said he suspected the man shouted that phrase to slow down the pursuit.

Although the businessman spotted the assailant among movie patrons and chased him to the second floor of the Omni Building, he said he gave up the chase, in part, because he feared the knife. The police never were called, and no report was made.

A similar incident happened Sept. 15, also a Saturday when a North American with extensive experience in Latin America walked out of a bar to go to the same Pizza Hut. This man was not so lucky,

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Well-traveled by day, the space between this blue sidewalk kiosk and the nearby wall on Avenida 1 is the gauntlet that some gringo-looking passersby fail to navigate.

and he was caught between a closed sidewalk kiosk and the wall of a nearby building. The same scenario transpired involving two or perhaps three muggers.

The businessman, the near-victim in the latest incident, is keeping track of the similar assaults in the same area, and he said that there may be as many as four recent muggings, including his own.

However, North Americans in the area are only likely to hear of muggings involving other North Americans, and the victim in the Sept. 15 incident said that he had heard of at least one Costa Rican being mugged in the area about the time he was.

Although police patrols were beefed up downtown for Christmas, the businessman complained of a lack of policemen. He said he believes large numbers of police were transferred from the downtown to manage the crowds at the Zapote festival that started Dec. 21. "Not a cop in sight," is how the man described the situation Saturday night at 9:30 p.m.

Avenida 1 is a main tourism area lined with hotels and drinking establishments frequented by North Americans and Europeans.

The businessman was not worried about the money he carried. He had but 3,000 colons (nearly $9), about enough for dinner. But the man said that because of a similar wave of muggings several years ago several North American victims still are complaining of injured necks and damaged adam’s apples.

The concern about the police was repeated early New Year’s Day when not a single policeman could be seen in the heavily visited tourist district along Avenida 1 from Calle 5 to Calle 11. 

The Viper Lady is back, and she's really ready for business now
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Viper Lady is back, and looking more businesslike than ever. One recent victim reported that the woman who drugs tourists, now carries a briefcase and pretends to be a businesswoman.

The "Viper Lady’ is a term for one or more professional-looking, middle-aged women who target  middle-aged male tourists, lure them to bars or cafes and then drug them. 

The Viper’s drug of choice is probably rohypnol, the so-called date-rape drug which is available here on a prescription basis, according to a local pharmacy expert.

The Viper Lady has made several scores in the last two months, police sources said. Speculation in the downtown business community where the woman meets her victims suggests that as many as 100 male tourists might have been snared over the last three years. She also sometimes works the principal bus lines and offers unsuspecting men drug-laced candy.

The appeal of the woman is right out of a psychology 101 text. She is not a slender, 18-year-old. An approach by such a young woman would put even the most egocentric North America 

tourist on guard. Instead, the Viper Lady is 40ish, slightly dumpy yet intelligent and well-dressed. She has been known to wear a blue blazer and also a business suit. 

She introduces herself by saying that she remembers the tourist from his arrival at the airport. Police believe this is a way to screen non-tourists who might be around to testify at a trial. She claims to work at the airport in some capacity.

The woman tells her mark that today or tomorrow is her birthday and that she has no one to help her celebrate the day. She suggests a coffee or a drink in a nearby establishment.

Once drugged, the victim is likely to retain enough consciousness to remember PIN numbers for credit or ATM cards. The Viper Lady and confederates have been known to bring a drugged victim to an automatic teller machine to make withdrawals. They also have been known to invade hotel rooms and strip them of personal belongings.

Police in the past have stopped, interviewed and even taken photographs of the Viper Lady, or at least the women identified as such by victims. But they have been singularly unsuccessful in making an arrest or developing a criminal case.

That’s a lot of work

for OIJ pathologists


By the A.M.  Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization reported Wednesday that it had handled 2,675 deaths in 2001. 

The organization’s pathology labs are called in whenever a violent death is suspected. This includes traffic accidents, suicides and natural deaths that take place outside of medical supervision. The subsequent autopsy determines the cause of death and any related factors.

The largest number of such deaths were in January when there were 253, the organization said in a report.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos

A.M. Costa Rica
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Jo Stuart
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 2
Channel 7 files its appeal against ruling on presidential debate
A.M. Costa Rica photo
The sign goes up at the Fiesta Casino on Avenida Central. The operation opens to the public in two days. Meanwhile, the Jungle Casino located opposite in the Hotel Balmoral has closed.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Television station Canal 7 has filed an appeal with the Costa Rican Supreme Court to overturn on constitutional grounds a ruling by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that effectively prevents a debate among the four major presidential candidates. Meanwhile, the ruling by the Tribunal issued after Christmas is getting heat from all side.

Channel 7, officially Televisora de Costa Rica S.A., wanted to hold a debate Jan. 7 with the leading four candidates. But three minor candidates demanded that they should be invited, too.  The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which has the job of ensuring fair elections,  included private television programming among its oversight functions.

Among those groups lambasting the decision is the InterAmerican Press Association, which called on Costa Rican courts to overturn the order. It called the order a "flagrant interference in the news media's editorial and journalistic independence."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is waffling. A report earlier this week said that the three judges who voted for the debate ruling now say the debate can go ahead as long as the television station supplies equal air time at a different date to the minor candidates. Channel 7 said it would be impossible to hold a debate with 13 candidates.

The InterAmerican Press Association based in Florida said in a note to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal chief justice, Oscar Fonseca, that the organization expressed its "deep concern at the Tribunal's thinking as uttered in its ruling, because on the pretext of equity but going beyond its role it sets out mandatory news requirements for Channel 7 that seriously limit freedom of the press and the right to information."

Presidential elections are  Feb. 3. Teletica had invited Rolando Araya of the Partido Liberación Nacional, Otto Guevara of the Movimiento Libertario, Abel Pacheco of the Unidad Social Cristiana and Ottón Solís, of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. The four candidates have more than 90 percent of the support expressed by  respondents in surveys taken of the electorate.

Famed Nashville South Bar is up for sale in San José
By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

The well-known Nashville South Bar on Calle 5 between avenidas 1 and 3 is for sale. 

Betsy Matthews has placed a small sign in the window and said Wednesday that the price is $100,000. She has been operating the bar for three years, and her two partners who live in Florida have owned it for 10 years.

The sale does not include real estate, which is leased. The bar has a certain fame for being the watering hole favored by retired policemen and federal agents. If you have an urge to own a bar, Ms. Matthews can be reached at 221-7374.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
A small, white window sign announces a possible sale.

Where were residents?
They were at beaches

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The day was bright and sunny Wednesday with while billowing clouds. And the streets in the metropolitan area were easy to navigate because the mid-week holiday meant many Costa Ricans just stayed at the beach or in the mountains.

A number of businesses remained closed.

The country will not be back to full operation until at least Monday. The Legislative Assembly is scheduled to reconvene Friday, but the assembly has been plagued by absences all year, and the betting is that no quorum will be present then.

Courts and the national police, the Judicial Investigating Organization, are on a three-week holiday, imposed to save money. 

The only crowds Wednesday were at the service stations and garages that were testing vehicles for exhaust emissions. Wednesday was the last day to get the so-called ecomarchamo and the annual registration that follows without penalty.

At least 30 prisoners
die in police raid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian police have stormed a prison in the Amazon after rioting inmates with smuggled guns and makeshift weapons killed at least 30 prisoners. At least 10 other people were injured in the disturbance in western Rondonia state and officials say the number of casualties could rise. Authorities say Wednesday's uprising at the Urso Branco Penitentiary began after rival gangs clashed. The prisoners did not take hostages but demanded the transfer of about 30 inmates to other locations. 

Rebellions are common in Brazilian prisons, which are frequently overcrowded and often hold inmates in dismal conditions. Local media are reporting the Rondonia facility houses about 800 people in 60 cells. Early last year, coordinated rebellions in 29 Brazilian prisons left 19 inmates dead. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has acknowledged problems exist in the nation's prison system.

New Argentine leader
consolidates his base

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina's fifth president in two weeks is meeting with a broad spectrum of political officials to build a unity government able to address the country's economic crisis.

Immediately after he was sworn in Wednesday, President Eduardo Duhalde held closed-door talks with senior politicians and other leaders here. Duhalde has said the country is bankrupt and its welfare must be put ahead of politics and party interests.

Political analysts say President Duhalde needs to build a broad base of support for his program to rebuild Argentina's economy. He is expected to detail his economic policies Friday.

Argentina has suspended payments on its $132-billion public debt. There is widespread speculation that President Duhalde could end the Argentine peso's one-to-one peg with the dollar.

Argentina's economy has been in recession for nearly four years. The country is also struggling with an 18 percent unemployment rate.

Congress appointed President Duhalde Tuesday to lead the country ahead of elections scheduled for December 2003. Duhalde is completing the term of President Fernando de la Rua, who was forced from office last month amid rioting and looting sparked by his unpopular economic austerity measures.

The U.S. State Department has urged President Duhalde to work with the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions to resolve Argentina's financial problems.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said officials are hopeful the new Argentine government will lay the groundwork for a return to sustainable growth and prosperity.

Rum rule gets frown
at WTO appeals panel

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Trade Organization has ruled a U.S. law blocking the trademark registration of certain Cuban companies in the United States partially violates WTO regulations. 

An appeals panel made the decision here Wednesday. The European Union brought the case to the WTO on behalf of France. The dispute is known as the "Havana Club" case, and involves marketing of the rum by that name in the United States. 

French beverage company Pernod Ricard claims ownership of the trademark and markets the rum brand worldwide. However, the Bermuda-based Bacardi company claims it purchased the "Havana Club" brand from its original Cuban owners, the Arechabala family. Bacardi registered the name in the United States. 

Fidel Castro's government seized the Havana Club trademark in 1960, one year after his revolutionary rise to power. A U.S. law barring registration of Cuban brand names nationalized after the 1959 revolution denied Pernod Ricard any right to challenge Bacardi in the United State


New probe of Enron
announced in U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON — Another congressional committee has announced a probe into the bankrupt Texas-based energy giant Enron. 

Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Wednesday the Government Affairs Committee will subpoena key documents from Enron's board of directors and top managers. 

The senator said Enron's sudden collapse from being one of America's most powerful companies to bankruptcy raises troubling questions. He also said the committee will not rule out a probe into connections between Enron and the White House. 

Several top Enron executives were strong backers of the Bush election campaign, and Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay played a large part in helping formulate the Bush energy plan. 

Enron specialized in finding sources of energy, such as oil and natural gas, and selling its discoveries to the highest bidder. 

But the company entered into several failed partnerships and went deep into debt, which many investors did not know about. Enron filed for bankruptcy protection last month after a failed takeover bid. 

U.S. regulators want to know how top Enron executives were able to sell off their stock in the company before its collapse, while thousands of employees, whose retirement plans were deeply invested in Enron, were forbidden from selling their shares. 

Five other House and Senate panels are also investigating the collapse of Enron. Enron stock was selling at $90 a share in 2000. Wednesday, it was trading at 64 cents a share on the New York Stock Exchange.

Century-old census
debuts somewhat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON — Britain's 1901 national census has made its online debut with crashing success — the high demand caused the site to shut down earlier Wednesday. 

Britain's Public Records Office, which took two years to develop the site, says measures are in place to increase the system's capacity. 

Information on the site comes from a census taken on March 31, 1901. It marks the first time English and Welsh census returns are available online.

The census contains background information on about 32 million people, including actor Charlie Chaplin and Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien. Details include age and place of birth.

Site visitors can view images of the original pages written by the census takers. The Public Records Office has begun work on building a similar site for the 1891 census.

Euro posts a gain
in its first day

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Europe's new 12-nation currency, the euro, rose to 90 U.S. cents, its highest level in weeks, on its first official business day.

European Union Monetary Affairs Chief Pedro Solbes told reporters in Brussels Wednesday he was extremely satisfied with the smooth change to the euro from previous currencies. He said he expected the majority of transactions to take place in euros by the end of the week.

The European Central Bank said cash-dispensing machine use was four times its usual amount in some countries as consumers collected the new bills.

There were some glitches. More than 2,400 Austrian bank machines broke down briefly due to an overload on the bank's central computer. In Naples, Italy, police intervened to calm an unruly group of retirees in line at the post office, angered by the additional time it took to collect their first euro pensions. Throughout the euro zone, there were merchants who were reluctant to work with multiple currencies. 

In general, however, officials said they were pleased with the way things were going.

Participating E.U. member nations have been given until the end of February to phase in the euro.

Three E.U. members - Britain, Denmark and Sweden - have not yet adopted the new currency. Some non-European Union states, including Andorra, San Marino and the Vatican, have also joined the euro. Banks in the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro and in Kosovo are stocking the new currency to replace the German mark, which had been the principle means of exchange.

More mudslides kill
at least 66 in Brazil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian authorities say at least 66 have been killed in mudslides triggered by heavy rains in Rio de Janeiro state.

Officials say several people were killed in recent days near the mountain city of Petropolis, the area hardest hit by the downpours.

Torrential rains began last week, flooding low-lying regions and triggering mudslides that buried houses and residents under thick, red mud. Many people are without shelter and thousands have fled their homes. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso pledged government aid for affected areas. 

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