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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 13
Jo Stuart
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Town of Sixaola will be relocated to higher spot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Caribbean coast residents who regularly are flooded out by heavy rains will get a chance to move elsewhere.

U.S. donates $50,000 BELOW!

That is one of the goals of a commission set up Tuesday by President Abel Pacheco. The relocation will mainly be in the Sixaola area where townspeople faced flooding up to the rooftops Jan. 9 and 10.

"We are going to offer new lands that are not flooded to relocate the population and make a new Sixaola because this is the hour to put an end to this chaos," said Pacheco. 

The commission also will have the job of reactivating the weakened economy in the Province of Limón, to deliver subsidies to workers in the banana plantations and to create temporary jobs for others who have been affected.

The Caribbean coast and northern zone were hit by record rainfalls two weeks ago. The areas that suffered the most damage were Sarapiquí in the northern zone and the area around Sixaola, as well as the Indian communities in the High Talamanca to the west. Rivers raged out of their banks after an estimated 14 inches of rain fell in 24 hour.

At the peak of the flooding more than 8,000 persons were evicted from their homes and sought shelter in schools, clinics and other sturdy structures. Disaster officials still are sending food and drinking water to a number of affected towns.

In addition, banana crops were damaged heavily, and those who usually work in the plantations are temporarily jobless.

Pacheco visited the Sixaola area Monday, and announced the formation of the committee at his usual Tuesday press conference.

The commission will include representatives of the Presidencia, Turismo, Vivienda, Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

Each day the repair estimates grow. And the problems with flooding are not over.

The emergency commission said Tuesday that more than 200 persons had been evacuated from Estrada because the Río Matina was about to flood over its banks.

The area continues to face a strong cold front that is bringing rain. The commission also said that those still in shelters should stay there, at least until the weather changes, perhaps Thursday.

Women orchid growers plan special sale this week in Grecia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 60 orchid growers from the area of Grecia, Atenas and Naranjo will exhibit their plants at reduced prices this week. 

The sale of orchids will be held at the Agencia de Extension of the Ministerio de Agricultura and Ganaderia in Grecia. 

The Union de Asociaciones de Mujeres Productoras de Orquideas is made up of over 100 orchid cultivators. With the help of the ministry and other non-government organizations, the union has been able to grow a variety of different orchids, cactuses and anthuriums. 

Edith Rodriguez, a member of the association said that orchid production has improved their income and quality of their lives. She said that the exhibition of their  flowering
plants at the ministry offices in Grecia will help their businesses flourish.  The event will run from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
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Cruise ship passenger, 75,
dies after snorkeling here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Minnesota woman died Sunday as a result of a snorkeling expedition. The day was her 75th birthday.

She is Arlene Helgeson, who died in San José after experiencing problems while snorkeling off of Playa San Josecito.  Mrs. Helgeson had been on a cruise with her husband Don and decided to take shore leave to try snorkeling at the Pacific beach town.

The reason for the death is still unclear, and local police agencies had no additional information. 

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mrs. Helgeson and her husband were both snorkeling, when Mr. Helgeson noticed his wife signaling for help. He immediately helped her back to the dive boat and took her back to the cruise ship. Mrs. Helgeson was then airlifted to a hospital in San José, where she was pronounced dead on arrival. 

The couple lived in Minnesota, where they were active in the community. Mrs. Helgeson worked as an artist and as a philanthropist. Her husband is a board member and former CEO of Gold’n Plump Poultry, a firm based out of Minnesota. 

Mrs. Helgeson is survived by her husband, sons, Scott, Michael, Stefan and Glen, three brothers and nine grandchildren. 

Line of credit established
for British purchases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican companies interested in purchasing goods from the United Kingdom will benefit from a $20 million line of credit arranged by the British government’s export credit agency. 

The Commercial Department of the British Embassy in San José announced details of the agreement this week. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the London branch of Société Générale Corporate & Investment Banking are the creditors in the agreement. 

Carlos Watson, the head of the International Finance Department at the Central American Bank said, "Central America is becoming a more and more interesting place for business for many international companies, mainly because of its location next to the American market but also for its economic growth and political and social stability," 

"These factors have created an appropriate environment for investments in many sectors in the region, and this credit line is an effort to create more business between the UK and Central America," Watson said.

Maurice McPhail, trade and investment officer at the British Embassy in San José said that the line of credit is the first of its kind for many years, and would provide an important boost to UK exports to the region.  He added that the credit will be used mainly for the purchase of capital goods, which traditionally are not subject to export finance. McPhail also said that there are few restrictions on the type of goods which can be bought, with the exception of consumer products, which will not be covered. 

Parrita plans big fiesta
to honor nation’s mules

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mules have their own festival starting Thursday in Parrita. 

The Festival Nacional de las Mulas runs until Jan. 30. The mule is featured because it is a symbol of work and an animal with which much of Costa Rica has been built.

Unlike the excitable horse or the plodding oxen, a mule is intelligent, steady and dependable. Although oxen pull more weight, mules, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse, can pull for longer distances.

But in Parrita, the mule is a reason for a party. Costa Rican bull fights, expositions of arts and crafts and even a horse and mule parade Saturday, Jan. 29, are planned.

Did we mention drinking? The festival starts at 6 p.m. Thursday with karaoke and other events in the bar named La Mulita Alegre, the happy little mule. Events seem to revolve around bars with ample excuse for bending the elbow.

Parrita is on the Pacific coast south of Jacó and north of Quepos. The festival is sponsored by the Asociación para el Bienestar del Cantón de Parrita and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Echandi wants plates kept
in regional offices

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For certain traffic infractions, Transito officers remove the license plates from the offending vehicle. The plates end up in a central office in San José.

That’s not fair, complains José Manuel Echandi Meza, the defensor de los habitantes. Many of the infractions happen in rural areas far from San José, and it is an economic hardship for drivers to travel to San José to simply retrieve their license plates. So he is demanding that regional offices be empowered to return license planes in the general vicinity of where the plates were confiscated.

Echandi also wants banks to be able to handle the payment of fines for the traffic infraction.

Man hurt near Parque Morazán

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man walking in or near Parque Morazán early Tuesday suffered a knife wound to the arm when he became the victim of a robbery.

Officials identified the victim by the last name of Broser, although his nationality could not be determined. He was treated at Hospital Calderón Guardia. The park is between avenidas 3 and 5 and calles 9 and 5.

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Couple has their own aid program for youngsters
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new organization in Puerto Viejo, headed by two U.S. citizens, is designed to make a difference for several Indian children this school year. 

The U.S. citizens, Barry Stevens and his wife, Nanci Wright, are founders of the Bridge, an organization, which helps local children earn an education. 

The organization was formed six months ago as a project of the Serendipity Foundation in Carlsbad, Calif. The organizations goal is to help BriBri Indian children attend classes at local schools. The organization works to provide funds for the education and to provide food or other necessities to the families. 

"This February, for the new semester, we were able to enroll 16 children into classes," Stevens said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. "We have several tools to help us with the project, including our micro-loan program and helpful food programs."

Both Stevens and Mrs. Wright worked as corporate officers before moving to Costa Rica in 2003. Stevens is the author of "How to Write a Successful Business Plan" and has extensive experience in business. Mrs. Wright continues to work as an artist. Her work concerning the Costa Rican jungles has been displayed in selected galleries. All of the profits from her work are funneled back into the organization, Stevens said.

Mrs. Wright originally fell in love with Costa Rica eight years ago when she came here on a trip. The couple eventually moved here in October 2003 and began working on putting together a foundation to help the local children.

Stevens and his wife began setting up the Bridge organization after they met Alejandro, a 9-year-old BriBri Indian boy living in the jungle near Puerto Viejo, last February. When they first met, Alejandro he could only speak BriBri and his family could not afford to send him to school. 

Barry Stevens and his wife, Nanci Wright

Through Alejandro's family, Stevens and his wife found out about additional costs that are associated with Costa Rica's public schools. Children need uniforms, shoes, a backpack, and school supplies, such as pencils and paper. Alejandro's family could not afford to send him to school, but Stevens and his wife found a way to help.

Alejandro started school that February and worked diligently through the year. Today, he can speak basic Spanish, can work on basic mathematics, and has learned how to use a computer. His entire family is thrilled with his progress and hopes that his education will help to brighten Alejandro's future.

Between their programs to help with food and with the expenses associated with education, the Bridge Foundation hopes to promote better education for Indian children for years to come. The Web site is HERE!

Uncle Sam checks in
with $50,000 donation

Douglas Barnes, chargé of the U.S. diplomatic mission here, signs an agreement witnessed by President Abel Pacheco. The agreement says the United States will donate $50,000 for relief work on the Caribbean coast and northern zone.

The money is from the U.S. Office of Disaster Assistance for Latin America and the Caribbean. It will be used for air support, purchasing bottled water, providing food and cleaning of wells, said the embassy.

The relief work continues in the flood ravaged area.

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Condoleezza Rice defends U.S. position on Chavez 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, at her Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, accused the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez of meddling in the affairs of its neighbors. She said a thrust of her tenure as secretary of State will be to hold accountable Latin American leaders who fail to uphold democracy.

The Bush administration has been a persistent critic of Chavez for what are seen here as efforts to subdue the country's political opposition and independent media, and Ms. Rice is making it clear that this approach will continue as President Bush's second term begins.

The secretary-designate was questioned about the U.S. policy toward Chavez by Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Democrat, who has just returned from a visit to Venezuela and several other South American countries and said the Venezuelan leader had expressed an interest in improving ties with Washington.

Ms. Rice said the Bush administration doesn't want to see the democratic trend in Latin America over the past several years revert to a totalitarian one. She said there needs to be vigilance with regard to Chavez and, as she termed it, the "difficulties" his government is causing for its neighbors and its "close association" with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

"We are very concerned about a democratically elected leader who governs in an il-liberal way," she said. "And some of the steps that have been taken, with the media, against the opposition, I think are really very deeply troubling. And we're going to have to, as a hemisphere, that signed a Democracy Charter, be devoted to making sure that those who signed that charter live up to it."

Dodd said he appreciated Ms. Rice's concerns, but said that building a better relationship with Venezuela is a "two-way street" and requires effort on the part of the United States as well.

He said the Bush administration has established a good relationship, for instance with Brazil's left-leaning President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva despite some sharp anti-American rhetoric by the Brazilian leader as he campaigned for office in 2002.

"I can go back and show you statements that President Lula made that can compete with anything President Chavez has said," Dodd said. "Yet we find a way to work with this new president. My strong suggestion is that we find ways to do this. Going back and repeating these statements over and over again only dig the hole deeper and deeper. And that's an important relationship, it's important in the hemisphere."

Dodd lamented what he said was an "absence of attention" by the United States to Latin American issues in recent years amid the administration's understandable preoccupation with Iraq and terrorism.

He said U.S. policy in the region is in "deep trouble" as governments there struggle with economic problems at a time when U.S. aid is likely to decline.

Ms. Rice said the Bush administration is trying to work key relationships in Latin America in a "very aggressive way," including ties with the Brazilian government of President Lula, which she termed "extremely critical."

She stressed the need to press ahead with Brazil and others to achieve a hemispheric Free Trade Agreement of the Americas and similar deals with Andean and Central American states.

Colombian dealer admits he tried to send arms to paramilitaries
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON D.C. — A Colombian arms trafficker has pleaded guilty in a federal court in Florida to charges that he attempted to export arms to a Colombian paramilitary group, said the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Agency.

The agency said the defendant, Guillermo Cardoso-Arias, 54, has pleaded guilty before a U.S. district court judge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The agency said Cardoso-Arias pleaded guilty to a two-count indictment that alleged he had knowingly engaged and attempted to engage in the business of brokering the export of 200 AK-47 assault rifles and attempted to export those rifles without a license. The defendant faces a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison per count, said the agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. law enforcement agents taped conversations with Cardoso-Arias in which he said he was purchasing the rifles on behalf of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary group.  The defendant said the weapons would be used to fight the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

According to the agency, the defendant added that there was a need for so many AK-47s because they are lighter and easier to handle than other weapons when climbing the mountains of Colombia.  Both the self defense and revolutionary forces have been designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations.

The United States also has designated the two groups as significant foreign narcotics traffickers under the U.S. Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. 

The Kingpin Act is designed to deny significant foreign narcotics traffickers, their related businesses and their operatives access to the U.S. financial system, as well as block them from all trade and transactions involving U.S. companies and individuals.

The Kingpin Act authorizes the U.S. president to take these actions when it is determined that a foreign narcotics trafficker presents a threat to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.

In a separate action involving the Kingpin Act, the agency announced Saturday that its agents converged on a multi-million-dollar home in San Diego, Calif., to serve notice that the owners' assets were being frozen under the provisions of that law.

The agency alleged the owners used currency exchange houses as fronts to launder U.S. currency earned by the Arellano Felix drug cartel of Mexico through its narcotics sales in the United States.  According to agents, the drug proceeds were then smuggled back into Mexico.

The agency said Ivonne Soto Vega and Jose Manuel Ruelas Martínez led the money-laundering scheme. Both are presently in the custody of Mexican authorities awaiting trial on charges stemming from their involvement with the Arellano Felix cartel.

Jo Stuart
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