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these stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 14
Jo Stuart
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Do not adjust your monitor. There is nothing wrong with this photo. But there is something wrong with this four-by-four. You won’t believe where this happened.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Health session gets a real example of bad air
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They were introducing the "Analysis of Costa Rica Health Sector" Monday morning at Casa Presidencial, and Dra. Maríadel Rocío Sáenz Madrigal, the Health minister, was talking about the report and environmental health problems.

Outside the plate glass windows of the presidential meeting room, a vehicle from the Poder Ejecutivo started up and issued a large cloud of smoky air pollution.

Of course, President Abel Pacheco didn’t wait long to show his anger. He stood up and 

pulled a soccer-style red card from his breast pocket and displayed it to the audience of about 100 persons. And he grimaced.

It was clear to those at the session that this particular vehicle had not yet undergone the mandatory revisión technica, or at least did not pass if it had been inspected. The inspections have been controversial.

What was so embarrassing was that the clear example of air pollution took place in full view of the president, health officials and guests and that the vehicle is among those operated by people directly supervised by the president.

Photo courtesy of Flamingo marina
The Flamingo marina is integral to the Pacific coast community
Flamingo marina battles against order to close
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The marina in Flamingo was given notice Friday that it has eight working days to terminate all its services for boat owners and clear the area of the 70 boats it currently houses.

An administrative environmental tribunal ordered the permanent closing after claiming the marina is not in compliance with certain water quality regulations. The tribunal is affiliated with the Ministerio del Ambiente y Energia, the government agency in charge of environmental concerns.

According to James McKee, the president of the marina, the operation meets the most rigorous environmental standards in the world. Costa Rican officials claim the marina generates human waste that gets into the water. A small spill of fuel in 1999 still is being cited by officials as evidence of pollution, said McKee.

The marina brought in its own group of marine biologists to test the area and all levels of the sea. The report shows that on all accounts, the waters pass the stringent levels required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to McKee.

McKee’s lawyers presented the Sala IV constitutional court with the report in 1999, and since then the court postponed the 

closure until judges could resolve the matter. 
But the court dropped the case from its agenda in November because of a busy schedule and left it to the lower courts, where the case was also being pursued. 

McKee said the court has not granted an order to avoid a closure. The panel is waiting until members see all of the evidence, which McKee suspects may take until 2005.

Until the courts can reach a conclusion, the environmental tribunal has full authority to insist on a closing. According to McKee, the order he received is enforced by the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica.

If the closing can not be postponed, which McKee said lawyers are working on, the area may lose 1,500 jobs and tourism dollars. The boats in the marina, which have not been charged of any wrongdoing will be forced to leave.

Some of the owners of the boats do not live in the country, which McKee said will be troublesome. His operation is the only marina in the beach community and is called officially Marina y Club de Yates Flamingo, S.A.

The watercraft include a half dozen sailboats, 10 to 12 yachts in transit, sportsfishing boats up to 50 feet in length, and other types of vessels. The marina includes repair facilities and offers a full range of services to the boating public, including fuel.

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A stranger on horseback in the hills of Guatemala
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

ANTIGUA, Guatemala — There is a dirt path that leads from the tourist center of Antigua to what approximates the 16th century. High above this historic former capital are little towns and villages visitors hardly ever see.

And the best way to see them is by horse.

I hired a guide to escort me by horse into the surrounding mountains where I could view the city from above and see the volcanoes draped behind. Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes: Fuego, Agua and Acatenango. Fuego is the only active one.

Marco and Gustavo Antonio rode with my horse to my hotel at 6 a.m. I mounted and rode off with them into a cold, fresh morning. We made our ascent up the dirt path just beyond the city limits and within an hour we were high enough to see far across the land. The morning was clear.

Marco Antonio, the father of Gustavo, was surprised I had wanted to continue from the vista that most tourists would have been satisfied with. I was on a six-hour tour when most tourists are fine with two hours. 

I told Marco Antonio we would continue, and I asked him to show me the villages that surround Antigua. There are many villages, and there are poor and hardworking inhabitants. Women carry bundles on their heads and men walk bare foot to the fields. 

I rode through offering a good day to all in a respectful mood that reflected the somber attitude of most people I saw. I did not want to appear too cheerful, because no one seemed happy. The people were indigenous to the land, and their stares toward me appeared to come from generations ago. As if there were a time I did not know of when I had harmed them.

We passed by a reservation called Mano de Lion, but did not enter. If you ask the city livers in Antigua about Mano de Lion some will not know it exists. Marco, Gustavo and I rode past Aldea el Rejon a dusty, small village. From behind tin and uneven fences I could see rows of eyes laughing as we rode through.

I asked Gustavo, the 12-year-old cowboy, what was so funny, but he said he did not know. However, we both knew that I was the funny diversion.

A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
The young guide, Gustavo Antonio, 12, carries a machete, has high boots and wears a hat in old cowboy style. 
A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
This antiquated city hall — Palacio Del Ayuntamiento — is a world apart from the surrounding hillside villages.

We came to Sacatepez at 10 a.m. I asked Marco Antonio to stop for lunch. Sacatepez is a big enough village. We came to the house of Mina de Oceda, who served us coffee. We sat in her kitchen, which was actually a patio covered by a tin roof and walls. Her three children seemed frightened of me, because they watched me with curiosity but ran when I returned the glance. They were watching Popeye from an old color television.

We rode on after thanking and paying Mina. I was beginning to feel the pains of the day. I had never ridden so far and long, and the horse was not custom saddled to my body size. The stirrups were more like cruel shoes that contorted my legs and feet, and the saddle was like wood. 

The landscape was littered, and a garbage fire burned in a ravine outside of town. We passed a sudsy river bubbling from the days laundry soap. The weather seemed gray.

As we continued the landscape brightened. Fields around us were covered in sunflowers and vegetables were growing all around. Marco Antonio pointed out the various types of plants and their medicinal value. We saw workers harvesting corn. 

We rode more until we rested at a hot spring called, fittingly, Aguas Calientes. Locals gather there to bathe and freshen themselves. Marco met some friends and told them that we were on a journey for six hours and that I was crazy for riding so far. They laughed well at my folly.

We were just about back in Antigua when we hit the main road into town. From there on we were riding with traffic and passing more developed towns. I was tired from my early rise and long day, and my horse was tired too.

I was holding my sweating horse at the side of the rode to let a truck pass the narrow street. Three Guatemalans walking by tried to scare my horse with a jolting motion toward it. I think they wanted me to be driven into the truck. Fortunately the horse and I were too tired to care and kept on our business unharmed.

I finished my 45-mile ride worn and hardened. The countryside is worth the trials of travel. I have been told that there is no safety in those hills beyond the tourist stronghold. But I would ride there with Marco and his machete-wielding son Gustavo any day. 

Latin bikers to descend on San José for rally
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Latin American bikers are on their way to Costa Rica. They are riding from all parts to show off their motorcycles.

The rally begins Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Gimnasio Nacional in La Sabana where a parade of 2,500 motorcycles is set to roll. The moto-cade will end at the Mall Internacional Alajuela where the IX Convencion Internacional de Motocyclismo starts its exhibition phase.

From 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. proud bike owners can display their machines to each other and the public.

The event has been hosted in Costa Rica before 

and is always tranquil, according to Alejandra Jaikel Aguilar, an event spokesperson. 

Her description undermines most assumptions that all bikers are a rowdy bunch like the Hell’s Angels bikers who gained a reputation in the 60s as a criminal and menacing organization.

However, this rally will not be without its unsanctioned, rambunctious events, like the festivities Big Dogs Biker Bar in Santa Ana has planned from Thursday through Sunday.

There will be plenty of beer being served in the open-air venue, where riders can show their bikes, according to part-owner of Big Dogs Dave Arnn. Other events at the bar include risqué contests involving women and t-shirts.

Bolivian bus crash
claims 28 lives

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Officials here say a bus has overturned in heavy rains and slammed into a mountainside in the central part of the country, killing 28 people. 

Authorities said today at least 30 others were injured in the crash Saturday near Cochabamba, about 320 kilometers southeast of here.

La Razon newspaper reports the vehicle was speeding and trying to take a curve in the road at the time of the crash. The bus was traveling from the southern city of Tarija.

Cuba election declared 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — A near-perfect turnout for general elections, in which more than 600 candidates handpicked by the country's communist government ran unopposed, has been reported by authorities here. 

Officials say more than 97 percent of the eight million eligible voters cast ballots to select representatives for the country's national assembly and provincial governments.

President Fidel Castro said the exercise shows that the country is perfecting what he termed a "socialist democracy." The country’s state-owned news media hailed the vote as proof of popular support for the nation's system of governance.

Voters had the choice of either endorsing candidates or leaving blank spaces. Pro-democracy dissidents on the island urged people to cast blank ballots, but there is no word as to how many did so. In Miami, exiles denounced the exercise as a farce.

Although voting is not obligatory, the government encourages high turnouts. All Cubans older than 16 may vote.

Among those elected to the National Assembly is Castro. Also securing a seat is Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez, whose arrival in south Florida sparked a five-month custody battle three years ago. 

Canadian minister 
develops ties with Brazil

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

OTTAWA, Canada — Bill Graham, foreign affairs minister, traveled to Brazil Monday to foster a stronger relationship with his counterpart Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister, and other newly appointed members of the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"The purpose of my trip is to strengthen and expand the ties that are already well in place between our two countries," said Graham.

Graham's discussions with Amorim today and with other Brazilian officials will touch on regional security, human rights, trade and human security.

Canada has pledged to work closely with Brazil and other organization partners to seek solutions to regional challenges and help strengthen and safeguard democracy in the region.

Brazil is also Canada's largest trading partner in South America, with $2.4 billion in two-way trade in 2001. The relationship has expanded significantly over several years with the two countries cooperating in areas such as aboriginal affairs, human rights, environment, labor, international de-mining and education.

Gail Nystrom to be
speaker for Democrats

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica will have as their guest speaker Gail Nystrom, founder of Fundación Humanitaria, at its monthly meeting, Monday. She is a leader in trying to save street children.

The meeting will be held at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica with a business meeting at 11 a.m., a buffet lunch at noon and the speaker at 12:45 p.m.

For information and required lunch reservations (3.000 colons for members  and 3.500 colons for guests) those interested may contact Dorothy Sagel at 249-1856 or Jerry Karl at  232-7048 no later than Thursday. All in the community are welcome for the buffet lunch, and speaker, they said.

Those who would like to donate to the foundation may bring canned goods to collect after the meeting, the spokespersons said.

Health organization
celebrating its 100th

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pan American Health Organization is celebrating a century of service to the all America’s people and a big list of successes in public health. Among these are the eradication of smallpox and polio, which saved the lives and bodies of many children.

The organization, founded in 1902, also has had successful results in the reduction of children’s mortality and women’s cancer, in the distribution of information to prevent and diminish sexual diseases and AIDS.

The health organization is the oldest such international public health confederation.  So Monday in the conference room of Casa Presidencial, the representative of the public health organization in Costa Rica, Dr, Philippe Lamy, cut up a birthday cake and shared it with President Abel Pacheco and his ministers.

Lack of policemen
concerns Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A recent string of crimes, some perpetrated against tourists, has officials in Limón asking, "Where is the police presence?"

The police need to be more visible at tourist destinations and transit hubs said one official with the Camara de Comercio Turismo de Limón.

The official with the tourist agency said the docks where cruise ships arrive is one high risk area. Uninformed tourists are often taken in by pirate taxis with criminal intent, he said.

Playa Bonita is another tourist draw that seems to have a reputation for criminal activity. "There is not sufficient police vigilance," the official said of the area.

However, the official, who was worried that he would be named, called the incidents isolated, uncommon and perpetrated by people outside the Limón community. 

English teachers meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Teachers of English as a second language will be holding their annual conference at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses Wednesday beginning at 8 a.m.

A number of academics will attend and others will visit via satelite hookup. Information is available from the center.
Professional Directory
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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Sunday was a violent day for fatal arguments
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Five persons were murdered in Costa Rica from early Sunday to early Monday morning, according to investigators.  The Judicial Investigating Organization gave these summaries:

A 40-year-old man died about 3 a.m. Sunday when he was hit in the neck with a machete in his home in Estero de Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. He was identified as Luis Antonio Almanzo García.

Later Sunday morning a prisoner in the Centro Penitenciario La Reforma in Alajeula, Edgar Sarmiento Díaz, 22, a convicted robber, died in a confrontation with another man. He was knifed. The detained individual is Rolando Mora, 27.

Sunday night a 33-year-old man in Purral Arriba de Guadalupe died about 9:15 when he was shot as the result of an argument. He was identified as Mauricio Durán Vargas.

Less than an hour later in a section of Puntarenas, a 48-year-old mother died when she tried to defend her son who was involved in a dispute with another man. The dead woman is Veracruz Guevara Angulo, the mother of nine. Held was Juan Bautista Díaz, 24.

Then Monday morning the body of a 25-year-old man turned up about 6:15 a.m. on the bank of a river in Tejarcillo de Alajuelita. The victim was identified as Mauricio Rojas Rojas, but police were not sure exactly what killed him. Witnesses said some men in a microbus attacked him.

Two more deaths happened early Monday, but they were not murders. Two women, sisters, died when flames swept through their home in El Alto de La Trinidad de Moravia. They were Socorro, 69, and Angelita, 63,  Marín Torres. The blaze broke out shortly after midnight and destroyed the structure. The younger woman was disabled, investigators said.

Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books. 

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

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