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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 19, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 12
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Chalk this one up to a bad case of road rage
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

The event certainly was a breach of Costa Rica’s highly valued tranquility.

A taxi driver tried to run our taxi off the road Saturday, then blocked the vehicle and proceeded to smash in the face of the driver.

And I still cannot guess the reason for the encounter.

The afternoon trip downtown seemed normal enough. Avenida 10 was basking in the warm afternoon sun. Traffic was light compared to the weekday rush hours.

Suddenly a taxi from the Guaria firm roared past our right side and cut in front in a very non-Tico aggressive way.

Our driver, about 30 years of age, took the traffic infraction philosophically. But at the next traffic light, he glared at the offending driver, who carried a young Costa Rican woman in the backseat as a fare.

Suddenly the two drivers were exchanging insults. Our driver suggested that the erratic 

route of his tormentor might have been caused by bad marijuana. Suddenly the other taxi driver, slightly older, lurched his car toward our taxi’s left side. Only quick action by our driver avoided an accident.

Then the aggressive driver blocked in our taxi behind a parked truck, leaped from the vehicle and began smashing our still-seated driver.

Soon the bloody brawl was in the middle of Avenida 10. The tiny woman passenger leaped from her taxi as did we. She seemed terribly shaken and also was confused as to what had triggered this fight.

Two guards from a nearby warehouse looked on and only called police when goaded. Soon a tránsito officer on a motorcycle arrived, but Mr. Aggression took off in his now-empty cab. The motorcycle officer followed.

Surprise! As we continued on foot to the downtown, we came upon both taxis, the tránsito officer and two Fuerza Pública officers with the situation well in hand.

We still do not know what triggered the fight. Nor did the policemen. But they should shred the guy’s taxi license.


 
Legal changes would go after repeat offenders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security ministry is working on some 10 changes in Costa Rican law that would make life tougher for career criminals.

"These are persons who do not know how to handle their liberty and they represent a grave danger to citizens," said Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. "If we are able to keep them where they are — in jails — the number of crimes would go down substantially."

The statement from the ministry did not specify the changes in the law, but it did hint that repeat offenders would not have access to certain privileges they now have. The announcement came as the ministry expressed relief that Raúl Solís Martínez, a repeat robber 

in the central San José area has been sentenced to 39 years in prison.

El Juzgado Penal de San José imposed the sentence after Solís accepted responsibility for seven robberies.

Ramos said that the ministries initiatives to clear the streets of known criminals was bearing fruit and gave Solís as an example. The man was on a list of 51 known repeat criminals that the Fuerza Pública and the security ministry have been focusing on during the holiday season. The 52 have been arrested repeatedly but eventually get out of custody. The ministry usually blames the court system.

At least 24 of the 52 most wanted have been arrested during the last several weeks and are awaiting either trial or sentencing.


 
Do we have
any Elvis 
tributes?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is a new one. A song collector seeks help in locating any Costa Rican songs that mention Elvis Presley.

Howard Banney writes that he has complied Elvis tributes from 54 countries but none from Costa Rica.

He asks help in locating one. He is at Eltribs@cs.com

 

 
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Photo by the Ministerio de Gobernación, 
Policía y Seguridad Pública
Here are some of the weapons uncovered by police at a Peñas Blancas checkpoint.

Police find 28 pistols
en route to Nicaragua

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More guns have been confiscated along the country’s northern border.

The Policía de Control de Drogas stopped a Nicaraguan-registered vehicle over the weekend and found eight .22-caliber pistols and 20 .25 caliber pistols.

The driver, identified by the last names of Gutiérrez Acevedo, and a woman passenger with the last names of Calero Guido, were detained. Both are from Nicaragua, police said. They were captured at a checkpoint near Peñas Blancas on the border with Nicaragua.

Just last week, police stopped a bus that carried 315,000 rounds of .22 ammunition.

Bar owner murdered
by three robbers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men stuck up a bar in Estanquillos, near Atenas, late Saturday and fatally  shot the owner.

Law enforcement officials counducted a roundup of Nicaraguans in the area because one of the killers was said to have an accent typical of that country. In all, officials detained 47 undocumented Nicaraguans, although they are not sure if they have captured any suspects in the killing.

The robbery and shooting happened about 10:15 p.m. at the Bar San Antonio in the Barrio Jésus district of the community, said a summary from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The men pulled guns, fired in the air and herded some 30 persons in the vicinity into the bar, the ministry said. 

When Fuerza Pública officers arrived from Atenas, they found the owner of the bar, Rafael Ramírez, with two bullets in his stomach. He died early Sunday in the Hospital San Rafael de Alajuela. The robbers took about 700,000 colons (some $1,666), officials said.

Jeb Bush to visit,
dine with Pacheco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of the U.S. president, will visit Costa Rica Feb. 14 and be the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by President Abel Pacheco the next evening.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto announced this Friday, but gave no reason for the Bush trip except to say that he had a private program planned. However, Bush will be given the keys to the Municipalidad de San José during his three-day visit.

The governor of Puerto Rica will visit at the end of January as the leader of a business delegation. He is Sila María Calderón. The group is expected to arrive Jan. 28 and leave Jan. 30. Calderón will meet with Pacheco and leaders of the Asamblea Nacional and the Tribunal  Supremo de Elecciones, said the ministry.

Roberto Tovar Faja, the nation’s foreign mininster, said that Antonio Sacca, a presidential candidate in El Salvador, will visit Tuesday evening and the next day will have breakfast with Pacheco. Later in the week, Billie Miller, vice premier and foreign minister of Barbados will visit until Jan. 28.

The vice premier will be in the company of Sheelegh de Osuna, ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago in Venezuela. The delegation is campaigning for the site of the headquarters for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas to be located in Trididad and Tobago.
 

Rigoberta Menchu 
takes government slot

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu has agreed to become a goodwill ambassador for Guatemala's government. 

Ms. Menchu on Saturday accepted the post within the government of Guatemala's new president, Oscar Berger. The Nobel prize winner will be one of the president's top officials in monitoring adherence to peace accords that ended the country's civil war.  Ms. Menchu is a longtime activist on behalf of the nation's indigenous people. 

Guatemala's 36-year civil war ended with U.N.-brokered accords signed in 1996. Some 200,000 people died in the war.

Man on run with teen
caught in Tijuana

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TIJUANA, México — Federal agents say they have captured an American citizen who fled the United States after being charged with 37 counts of sexual offenses against minors. 

The Mexican Attorney General's Office says agents arrested Edward Lawrence Carlson here, though it is unclear when. He was traveling with an unidentified 14-year-old girl when he was detained.  The statement says the suspect, who jumped bail last August, has been handed over to the U.S. Justice Department.
 

U.S. Embassy closed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States and to help honor the U.S. civil rights leader, the U.S. Embassy will be closed.
 

Mainly Cubans accepted

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Heightened security concerns connected with the war on terrorism caused refugees admissions from the Western Hemisphere to fall far below allowable ceilings. The State Department said Friday that admissions totaled 452 refugees in 2003, but should increase in 2004. Most of those admitted were Cubans.
 
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Carter will attempt
Venezuelan mediation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ATLANTA, Ga. — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter heads to Venezuela later this month to hold talks with government and opposition leaders.

The Carter Center, based here, says the former president will be in Venezuela from Jan. 25 through the 27. 

The Nobel Peace laureate is scheduled to meet with President Hugo Chavez, the National Electoral Council, opposition leaders, legislators and Venezuela's Supreme Court judges.

Carter also wants to advance a peace and democracy agreement negotiated by the Organization of American States. His Carter Center facilitated the accord, which set out a framework for a presidential recall referendum. 

Meanwhile, Venezuela says it is investigating threats of bomb attacks against the U.S., British and Spanish embassies in Caracas. 

Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel says state security agencies will conduct the probe. Rangel says the government of President Hugo Chavez will not tolerate such threats. 

Warnings issued by the United States, Britain and Spain say the threats appear to be linked to political unrest, and the attacks could begin Sunday. The U.S. warning advised Americans in Venezuela to maintain special security awareness in coming days. 

A spokesman for the Spanish Embassy has identified the group linked to the threats as the Nestor Cerpa Cartolini irregulars who claim to back President Chavez.

Ties between the United States and Venezuela are strained, with President Chavez accusing Washington of aiding political opponents who wish to oust him from office. Venezuela is a major supplier of crude oil to the United States. 
 
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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Municipal police close down classy 'sauna' spot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Policía Municipal closed up a classy alleged sauna parlor Friday.

A policeman said that the operation, New Fantasy, was being closed because it was more than the sauna provider claimed it to be. That would not be news to hundreds of North American patrons.

The raid also highlighted the way that the sex trade in Costa Rica is marketed to North Americans, mainly via the Internet.

New Fantasy is at Avenida 9 and Calle 7, and the sign in front leaves little to the imagination. The silhouette of a woman is featured.

The Web page for the operator was created Dec. 2, 2002, although it was unclear exactly how long New Fantasy has been operating. The administrative contact for the Web page is istarmedia of San José, a Web service operated by Enrico Cacciatore, a Canadian who also publishes the Internet daily Inside Costa Rica.

The Web page for the company had been deactivated by this weekend, but a cached version of the page said "The lovely and friendly hostess will introduce you to one of the more than 25 attendants to show around the place — the Sauna, Steam Room, private showers and very comfortable and clean rooms."

Officials for the Municipalidad de San José said the operation only had permission for massages. However, several Internet discussion boards explain in detail what transpired at New Fantasy, even going so far as to rate the women employees there on various sexual skills and to list hourly rates.

The business has been operating in its Barrio Amon location for at least a year. Prostitution is not prosecuted in Costa Rica. But to be a third-party intermediary, a pimp, is a crime. However, there were no reports of criminal charges Friday. The action was an administrative one.

A number of other operations in the area promote prostitution. Some strip clubs typically allow their dancers to make extra money entertaining customers. Several bars maintain adjacent rooms for sexual encounters with hostesses. Some 

Photo from Web page
Have any doubts about what goes on here?

maintain legality by use of a pension license. These operations have not been affected.

The Judicial Investigating Organization last May staged a raid on Arte y Sauna, a massage parlor on Paseo de los Estudiantes about 50 feet south of 
Avenida 2. That business had been in the same location nearly 15 years, and the raid probably was window dressing for a worldwide conference against sex tourism that was meeting in San José.

So one question about the raid Friday is why municipal police acted when they did. It would be hard for a building inspector to enter New Fantasy without realizing the purpose of some of the structural arrangements, according to North Americans who have been inside. And the business has been in operation for at least a year after extensive remodeling.

The Internet has provided a valuable tool for such operations whose advertising would not be welcomed in a number of newspapers. Several Internet sites promote Costa Rica as a destination for sex tourism and feature links to Web pages of specific firms in the sex trade.

Several North American tourists have told reporters that they put New Fantasy at the top of their must-see list as a result of descriptions on the Internet discussion lists.

Some officials said the possibility exists that New Fantasy would be back in business after clearing up its paperwork problems with the municipality.


 
Zoellick says free trade pact is open for customizing
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the purpose of his visit here is twofold: to launch free trade agreement negotiations and to "listen and to learn" from various political, business and non-governmental organization leaders about their views on the economy and the trade agreement.

Speaking here Wednesday Zoellick said a free trade agreement with the Dominican Republic is about much more than trade. "It's part of a larger effort for development and opportunity and hope," he said.

Zoellick said the United States and the Dominican Republic share a strong economic relationship with about $9 billion dollars in trade and $1.4 billion in U.S. investment. The trade talks, he said, aim to integrate the Dominican Republic into the recently concluded negotiations with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on a U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement. Zoellick's trip marked the first of three rounds of free trade negotiations with the Dominican Republic. The first round ended Friday.

The trade representative called news stories claiming there is little "customization" for the Dominican Republic in a free trade agreement "just incorrect."

"During all of this week, my team, which represents eight different departments of the U.S. 

Government, will be working with Secretary Guzman and her team to try to deal with the many customized areas of the work with the Dominican Republic," he said. Sonia Guzman is secretary of Industry and Commerce here.

The United States will work from the framework of previous free trade agreements with Chile, Singapore and Central America, added Zoellick. "But we will be customizing the provisions dealing with agriculture, goods, textiles, services, financial services, and investments," he said.

Discussing the benefits of a free trade agreement, Zoellick said such pacts "emphasize transparency for an economy." Given recent difficulties in the banking sector, Zoellick said, provisions that help counter corruption, bribery and open up the system for the rule of law are beneficial for the Dominican Republic and will help it compete in the world market.

"We want to help lay a foundation for recovery from the problems of 2003 and growth and development in the future," he said.

In response to a question on U.S. agricultural subsidies, Zoellick said the United States has proposed eliminating all subsidies for export of agricultural goods and cutting in half the other types of subsidies for agricultural products.

But that needs to be done in negotiations that also provide for cuts in European, Japanese and other subsidies, said Zoellick.


 
 
Congressional report critical of Cancun stalemate
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The failed World Trade Organization ministers' meeting in Cancun in September 2003 aggravated tensions between developed and developing country members and did not resolve any major issues, a U.S. congressional report says.

Developed and developing countries had competing visions about the goal of the stalled negotiations, called the Doha Development Agenda, the report says. Developing countries wanted open agriculture markets and special treatment from the developed countries. Developed countries rejected the notion that they should open their markets without reciprocation from developing countries, and they wanted the ability to offer different treatment for wealthier and poorer developing countries.

The report, "World Trade Organization: Cancun Ministerial Fails to Move Global Trade Negotiations

Forward; Next Steps Uncertain,"  was released publicly Friday by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative agency. The agency prepared the report at the request of the Senate Finance Committee and U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. It can be found as a PDF file here.

In recapitulating the collapse of negotiations at Cancun in September, the General Accounting Office began with the stalemate that prevailed for months before and described the way some participants only began to offer concessions in days just ahead of the meeting, while others never offered concessions at all.

"Hopes for breakthroughs still accompanied their ... meeting, but ministers from WTO members ultimately were unable to bridge the wide substantive differences on key issues that faced them coming into Cancun," the report says, "and as a result these key issues must still be dealt with for the round to continue."


 
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Diplomats from 19 nations try to salvage Bolivia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Friday played host to a 19-nation conference aimed at organizing economic help for Bolivia and its embattled democratic government. Participants are said to have made pledges of support though no figures were released. 

The meeting, which included key Latin American and Western European countries, along with international lending institutions and the United Nations, was not technically a donors' conference.

But there were pledges of support, and the participants set up a steering committee that will aim to translate those promises into tangible backing for Bolivia's beleaguered economy and democratic government. 

Bolivia was plunged into crisis last October amid mass protests, fueled in part by coca producers against President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who was forced to step down in favor of Vice President Carlos Mesa. 

Mesa's government has since been struggling to improve the region's weakest economy, and the plight of Bolivia was a major issue at last week's Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, where the United States and Mexico agreed to set up the support group. 

Last year's protests in La Paz had an anti-American tone, with demonstrators protesting the free-market policies of the U.S.-educated former president and his controversial plan to export natural gas to the United States via a pipeline through Chile. 

But at a news conference capping Friday's meeting, Bolivia's minister of the presidency, Jose Antonio 

Galindo, said the political ferment in his country is not so much an anti-U.S. phenomenon as it is a feeling among Bolivians that the economic system has failed them: 

"It's not that we have an anti-American thing in Bolivia," he said. "It's that the people feel that the system has failed, not the Americans or the Europeans. The system has failed. And we have and we ought to do something real fast to show them that we care not only for the macro-economics but also for the small people from the rural areas." 

Galindo said it is not just a Bolivian problem, since the crisis could bring instability to the Andean region. 

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, the chief U.S. delegate, said the Bolivian team presented what he termed a "sober report" about the government's needs for the coming year as well as a "powerful" plan for strengthening the economy and democratic institutions. 

He said the United States, which gave Bolivia $154 million in aid last year, plans to provide another $150 million this year pending approval by Congress, and is projecting a similar amount for fiscal year 2005. 

Grossman said in response to a Bolivian appeal in Friday's closed-door sessions, officials of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund promised to speed up the delivery of loan money already committed to help the Mesa government deal with a severe budget shortfall. 

The State Department official said the steering group would be quickly established to go about the work of redeeming pledges of assistance. 


 
More beef controls put in place, but ban remains
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Top agriculture officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico say they are working together to contain the spread of mad cow disease, but are not yet ready to lift the present ban on U.S. beef trade. 

The officials said they are working to update and harmonize safeguards in the entire North American beef industry. 

After meeting in Washington Friday, Mexico's secretary of agriculture said his country will continue a ban on U.S. beef products until the United States implements new industry safeguards. Mexico resumed importing beef from Canada late last year.  The Mexican official is Javier Usabiaga.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman told reporters that the U.S. industry has already implemented many new safeguards, but others are taking longer, such as a system that tracks where an animal was born.

"We have said we would move quickly to work on an animal identification system, but that one is going to take a little more time," she said.

Secretary Veneman went on to say beef trade with Mexico could resume before the identification system is completed.

A U.S. agriculture delegation plans to go to Japan next week to discuss that country's ban on U.S. beef products. Dozens of countries banned U.S. beef products after a dairy animal infected with mad cow disease was found in Washington State in December.

Following an extensive inquiry, the animal was discovered to have been born in Canada, prompting officials to re-examine safety and tracking procedures in the North American beef industry. 

Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a fatal illness that affects the brain. Humans can contract the disease through eating certain infected beef products.


 
 
Colombia's Uribe has strong popularity, poll shows
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A new public opinion poll here indicates that President Alvaro Uribe is the country's most popular politician in a decade. 

A Gallup poll published Saturday in the daily El Colombiano newspaper shows Uribe's approval rating in December rose to 80 percent, the highest figure for any Colombian president in the past 10 years and the first ever to enjoy such popularity a year into his tenure. 

Soaring approval comes despite one of the biggest 

political setbacks of Uribe's career — the defeat of a referendum in which he proposed political reforms and spending controls. 

Polls show voters admire the president's firm stance in combating drugs, illegal armed groups, crime, and corruption. 

The Gallup poll surveyed 1,000 people in four major cities, Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla, from mid- to late December. 

A previous Gallup poll in October showed 75 percent of Colombians approved of Uribe.


 
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