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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 15
Jo Stuart
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Costa Rica moves to protect crocs and trees from poachers
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A massacre of crocodiles along the Nicaraguan border and the continual illegal slaughter of trees are getting official attention.

The killing of the crocodiles took place in the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan biological corridor last week, and officials are seeking the persons responsible. The scene was the Zona Loliyal near los Chiles.

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez said Tuesday that investigators from his Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía and the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública are seeking the crocodile poachers.

Not yet determined are the number of animals killed, but the number is large, said the minister. He said that officials assume that the persons who killed the animals did

 so to sell the hides inside Nicaragua where the manufacture of goods made with crocodile skins continues. The animals are protected.

Rodríguez said that investigators are seeking armed men who travel the Río San Juan and its tributaries in two small boats, according to the description of witnesses. 

The minister also said that the government will halt issuing permits to cut standing timber. He said part of the plan is to create local forest committees that will allow residents to take part in the control of the forests nearby.

One out of every three trees being lumbered in Costa Rica has been cut illegally, the minister said. Although illegal logging has decreased, it still is a serious environmental worry, he said.

British supply ship will pay a courtesy call to country 
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British naval supply ship, RFA Black Rover, will dock in Puntarenas for the weekend beginning Jan. 31.

It will be the first such visit by a British ship for many years, according to British Embassy officials.

Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, said that she requested the ship’s visit as a goodwill gesture to Costa Rica.

British frigates patrol the waters off Costa Rica and help combat the trafficking of drugs. Ms. Butler said that this activity has had a significant effect in Costa Rica.

Ms. Butler called the visit "defense diplomacy," and indicated the opportunity for the ship’s crewmembers to see Costa Rica.

Local dignitaries will be able to board the

ship and meet the crew while it is in Puntarenas, said Ms. Butler. She said the ship has about 54 crewmembers. The ship is civilian manned.

The ambassador said that the ship will then dock at Drake Bay Feb. 8. She said that she is a strong admirer of the man the bay is named after, Sir Francis Drake.

Sir Francis was an English pirate-turned-
explorer and is thought to have docked at Drake Bay in 1579, hence the naming. The bay is on the Osa Peninsula.

Around this time, he was on a journey, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I, to wrestle some of Spain’s then control of the Americas.

RFA Black Rover will dock in Drake Bay near to the time when Drake was supposed to have been there in 1579, which is said to have been around March of that year.

Street kids
losing its 
home base
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Fundación Humanitaria is homeless and in need of a new location so that it can continue its work in taking children off the streets.

Gail Nystrom, the foundation’s executive director, helps street children rehabilitate themselves. Many are on drugs. At the foundation, the children are given a bed and the opportunity to give up their addictions and direct their lives towards normalcy.

Ms. Nystrom, though, notes that she can’t achieve these aims without a place to base the foundation. The owner of the current location, a sprawling  residence, has asked for the property to be returned.

Ms. Nystrom said that the foundation’s situation now is ironic: having tried hard to take children off the street, now it, too, is on the street, she said.  She said she seeks a location with two houses.

The foundation’s current location is in Cuidad Colon. Ms. Nystrom said that it would be ideal if the foundation could remain in that area.

Anyone who would like to help Ms. Nystrom and the foundation should call: 390-4142, or e-mail: gnystrom@sol.racsa.co.cr.

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U.S. man arrested in connection with child porn
By Bryan Kay 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen has been arrested on allegations he corrupted minors, provided drugs to a minor, paid for sex with a minor and produced and distributed child pornography.

Casa Alianza, a child advocacy agency for Mexico and Central America, first made a complaint against Thomas Scott Cochran, 38, to Lilian Gomez, the special prosecutor on Sex Crimes, nearly two years ago, the group said.

The original complaints came from Cochran’s neighbors. The neighbors complained to Cochran about the number of minors he was bringing to his Barrio Dent home, according to Casa Alianza. Neighbors reported they could see the flash of camera lighting through the window curtains.

Investigators said all the minors involved were boys.

At the time of Casa Alianza’s complaints — the second was in September 2001 — the prosecutor was unable to detain Cochran because Costa Rican law dictates that it is not a crime to possess child pornography, said Bruce Harris, regional director of Casa Alianza for Latin America.

Harris also cited a lack of funds as a reason for Cochran’s case not being pursued at that time.

Cochran was arrested Monday at his house in Rohrmoser, where authorities said they discovered more than 1,000 pornographic photographs, many of which contained minors.

The arrests came after renewed complaints from Casa Alianza and Patronato Nacional de Infancia.

Also found were child pornography magazines and other pornographic material, investigators said. Cochran’s computer was removed, too.

Around the time of Casa Alianza’s second complaint Cochran was living in Barrio Dent. He
later moved from this home, said Harris, and it took some time to track him.

Harris blamed the time gap from initial complaint to arrest on a lack of resources on the prosecutor’s part.

Authorities also raided Cochran’s Sabana Sur office, where more evidence was taken for inspection, they said

Cochran has been given six months preventative detention.

Authorities in the United States were also tracing Cochran, said Harris. 

Cochran came to Costa Rica on a tourist visa in 2001. He was in the process of seeking residency here, said a spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Casa Alianza wants the law changed so that possessing child pornography would be a crime here. At the moment, an individual has to be shown to be producing or distributing child pornography, said Harris.

Casa Alianza was one of several organizations that petitioned for the law to be changed three years ago, but that petition was opposed by then-deputy Otto Guevara. Guevara argued that this was a breach of peoples’ self-expression, continued Harris. Guevara is a libertarian.

President Abel Pacheco announced this week that he has presented changes in the criminal code to the special session of Congress to outlaw the possession of child pornography.

This news comes in a week when a 10-year-old girl in the Northern Zone was discovered to be pregnant. It is believed that the father is a 24-year-old. He has been released on probation.

Pacheco says would-be protesters lack knowledge
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

"I don’t know how they can oppose something that they don’t know what it is," said President Abel Pacheco Tuesday about opponents to a free trade treaty with the United States.

Pacheco made the observation at his weekly council of government meeting in the company of Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior.

A number of unions and special interests groups have promised to protest the start of free trade treaty talks Monday because they fear that the final document will affect them negatively.

But Trejos said that at the moment there isn’t even a draft of a proposed document.

Pacheco promised that he would not permit negotiations with the United States with the idea that Washington would seek to open the Costa Rican telecommunications and energy markets.

"I am not entering a TLC to enrich any individual. If they tell me that to enter into a treaty I have to sell ICE [Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad], well, there is no treaty. Period."

Some of the more vocal opponents are those groups linked to the electricity and telephone company. It was this group that fought hard and finally forced former President Miguel Angle Rodríguez to back off his plan to privatize several government institutions.

Trejos said that if the final draft of the free trade treaty is not favorable to Costa Rica, President Pacheco would not sign it. He also said that the document, likely to be some 1,500 pages, will have to be approved by the Asemblea Nacional.

Trejos also said that his ministry started an outreach program to get opinions from all sectors of Costa Rican society in October and that this program would continue during the entire period of negotiations.

Pacheco said that the objective of the country would be to open U.S. markets to Costa Rican goods and thereby obtain more resources for education, employment and pensions for older adults.

The Central American free trade treaty is considered by Washington as a warmup for a treaty uniting all of the Western Hemisphere into a free trade area by 2005.

The opposition to a proposed treaty spans a number of special interests. Some are simply suspicious of U.S. motives and fear Costa Rica will be impoverished by a free trade agreement with its giant neighbor to the north. Others have read a treaty that the United States just concluded with 
Chile and see in that document indications that 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, makes a point alongside Rina Contreras, minister of the Presidencia.

their situation here will be hurt by a treaty.

Typically such a treaty will enter into effect in stages, and the full implications will not be known for years. The U.S. Embassy has been holding  teleconferences for reporters to explain the nature of the negotiation process.

North Americans
planning protest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not just Costa Ricans will be protesting a free trade treaty Monday. Several groups of investors in the Villalobos high-interest operation will be protesting, too.

Their position is that Costa Rica does not deserve to do business with the United States because officials have driven the Villalobos operation out of business.  Some of these investors hold Costa Rica responsible for events that led Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho to close his Mall San Pedro office Oct. 14

More than 6,000 investors have been left high and dry in the three months since because Villalobos vanished and the generous interest payments of from 2.8 to3 per cent per month were cut off.

Some North Americans plan to distribute flyers and brochures. These groups hope for an accommodation by prosecutors that will allow Villalobos to return and perhaps reopen his office.

Carter helps world oil 
with effort in Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, has proposed a plan to help end Venezuela's strike now in its eighth week. 

Carter presented the plan to Hugo Chavez, the embattled Venezuelan president, during a meeting here Tuesday. 

The plan calls for two possibilities. One is an amendment to Venezuela's constitution that would allow early elections, or waiting until Aug. 19 for the country to vote on a referendum on whether Chavez should stay in power. Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said he plans to present his proposal Friday to a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends of Venezuela, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Spain and Portugal. 

Concerns about the strike, coupled with fears of a U.S. led attack on Iraq, pushed oil prices to new highs Tuesday, but prices later fell amid reports that Venezuelan oil tanker pilots may end their strike. 

Earlier, New York's light sweet crude for February delivery rose 70 cents to $34.61. London Brent was selling at 30 dollars and 73 cents per barrel. 

Venezuela was the world's fifth-largest oil exporter before the strike began on Dec. 2. Chavez's opponents began the strike to force him to resign and call early elections. He refuses to step down. The walkout has created widespread food and fuel shortages.

Avalanche in Canada
kills seven skiers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIVELESTOKE, Canada — An avalanche here has killed at least seven skiers. The incident happened in remote wilderness that has become famous for backcountry adventure. The avalanche occurred midday Monday on the Durrand Glacier, about 420 miles east of Vancouver. 

A group of 21 Canadian and American skiers chartered a helicopter from "The Selkirk Mountain Experience" here to fly into the company's remote chalet, near the glacier. 

Survivors were taken to the local hospital. The bodies of those killed were moved to a temporary morgue, set up in the adventure company's helicopter hangar. 

This type of remote backcountry skiing is both a dangerous sport and a major tourist attraction in the mountainous area. Skiers routinely traverse different mountains and glaciers, at high altitudes, to ski on the fresh powder of unused snow. 

According to the Canadian Avalanche Association here, 50 people are reported to have died in similar accidents in British Colombia, over the past five years. 

Clair Israelson is the director of the association, which helps to monitor the likelihood of avalanches. She said that although slides in the region's mountains happen everyday, the one that caused Monday's deaths is very uncommon. 

"Avalanches in the interior mountains of British Columbia, avalanches of some sort, are a daily event. Avalanches that catch and kill this many people are certainly infrequent. We haven't had an accident of this magnitude for many years now," Ms. Israelson said. 

Mr. Israelson said conditions on the glacier were rated as "considerable" at the time of the accident, which is in the middle of the Association's danger scale. 

Groups normally receive the usual wilderness survival training and sign paperwork recognizing the potential for danger before going up into the mountains. Avalanche beacons, which allow buried skiers to be easily found, are customary gear for such expeditions.

Journalists missing
in jungle borderlands

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PANAMA CITY, Panama — Authorities say three Western journalists have disappeared in a remote jungle region here and are feared kidnapped by Colombian paramilitary fighters. 

Police reported the three journalists, Mark Wedeven, Megan Smaker and Robert Young Pelton, as missing several days ago near the border with Colombia. Details are sketchy on for whom the journalists worked for or what they were doing here. 

Two of them are U.S. citizens, and the third may be Canadian. 

Authorities say the journalists disappeared when attackers burst into a small Indian village just north of the Colombian border, killing four people. Officials suspect the attackers belong to a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. 

The border area has been the site of frequent incursions by right-wing Colombian paramilitaries and left-wing Colombian guerrillas in recent years. Colombia is mired in a 38-year civil war that pits the rebels, paramilitaries and government against each other.

Rebels attack police
in Colombian village

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia —Officials say six police officers and a civilian are dead after leftist rebels ambushed their vehicle near the village of Zambrano, north of here. 

The officials told an international news agency Monday's attack happened when the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia lured police to a highway after forcing motorists to block the road. 

Investigators also say the rebels fired on the police car and hurled grenades at the vehicle before escaping into the mountains. 

Zambrano is in a region that came under military control in August in an effort by President Alvaro Uribe to boost his government's counterinsurgency efforts. 

The country is torn by a 38-year long civil war that pits leftist rebels, rightist paramilitaries and the government against each other. The conflict is partly fueled by the cocaine industry and claims thousands of lives each year. 

The rebels and paramilitaries have been branded as terrorist organizations by the United States. Last week, 70 U.S. Special Forces soldiers were deployed to train government troops to protect a key oil pipeline from rebel attacks. 

U.S. diplomats say the Seventh Special Forces Group, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will spend the next few months instructing two army brigades on how to protect the Cano Limon oil pipeline. 

Ecuador’s new president
names military heads

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Lucio Gutierrez, the country’s new president, has appointed new commanders to lead the nation's army and navy after their predecessors resigned last week. 

Officials with the defense ministry say Gen. Octavio Romero has been appointed to lead the army and Second Adm. Victor Rosero has been named to the top post with the navy. 

Since taking office last week, Gutierrez is said to have passed over some senior officers when making appointments for key military posts. That has led to the resignations of several senior officers. 

The president has said he is not looking to shake up the military but merely to select military leaders he can trust. 

Gutierrez was sworn into office last week after winning a runoff election in November. As an army colonel in January 2000, Gutierrez led thousands of indigenous people and angry fellow officers in a coup to overthrow President Jamil Mahuad, whose policies were blamed for a severe economic crisis. 

Venezuela investigation
called attack on press

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The government has told two private television stations they are under investigation and face possible fines for airing commercials in support of the country’s long-running general strike. 

Officials in President Hugo Chavez's government informed Globovision and Radio Caracas Television Monday of the decision to open the inquiry. 

The two stations responded by condemning the inquiry as an attack on press freedom. The development comes three days after Jose Vicente Rangel, vice president, said the government was not considering shutting down the two media organizations. 

Chavez has long waged a bitter war of words against private local broadcast media and newspapers that have criticized his policies. He has accused media owners of being part of the opposition conspiring to overthrow his government. 


Immigration sweeps
racked up 227 cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 227 foreigners have been detained in eight immigration operations, officials said Tuesday. 

Some 68 were picked up in the most recent sweep on Monday in the center of San José when officials questioned street vendors, massage parlor employees and residents of pensions.

One U.S. citizen was among those arrested, but the majority were from Nicaragua and Colombia, said a spokesperson for the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública.

Policía Especial de Migración and Fuerza Pública officers have been conducting raids in the capital and at pacific beach towns since before Christmas.

Marco Badilla, director general de Migración, said that about 25 percent of those picked up without sufficient paperwork end up going back to their country of origin. Some simply do not have their identification papers on their person. Others are in various stages of seeking residency or have the right to be in Costa Rica through marriage but have not formalized their status.  Officials usually give these people time to produce documents.

Canadian killed
in beach mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian man died Monday on the beach at the Playa Montezuma de Paquera, near Cóbano on the Nicoya Peninsula.

The man’s name was Ronald Gotts, 55, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Gotts sustained injuries to his head after falling and hitting a rock.  He was taken to the Clinica de Paquera, where he was later pronounced dead, the ministry said.

Army of police
is not needed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An army of police showed up to remove squatters on a municipal property located in La Aurora de Heredia and owned by the municipality, but most of the families had left.

The 1.5 square kilometers in the middle of a coffee plantation has been the home of the families for about 10 years. At one time some 150 families lived there, and that was the number police were expecting Tuesday when 200 officers showed up at 6 a.m. to enforce an eviction notice. But there was no violence, and only 25 to 30 families remained.

Squatting is customary in Costa Rica when a group of persons without land see land unoccupied. Sometimes the squatters win ownership of the land and sometimes court action eventually makes them leave, as was the case Tuesday

Progress cited
in tariff battle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has enlisted the aid of Holland and Germany in its efforts to avoid tariffs on some key agricultural products. In addition, Tico diplomats overseas are trying to obtain a promise of support from Ireland, Austria and Spain.

Alberto Trejos, minister of  Comerico Exterior reported this Tuesday. The country is planning for a meeting of the European Commission a week from now and a second meeting Feb. 27 where the dispute will be aired, he said.

The increased tariffs would affect some $300 to $400 million in Costa Rican products, including fruits, yucca, ornamental plants, and flowers. 

Roberto Tovar Faja, chancellor, said Tuesday that Nicaragua is anxious to support Costa Rica’s effort.

If Costa Rica does not win exemption on its non-traditional products, growers will face 20 percent tariffs in the European market. The industries involved employ up to 40,000 persons.

Earthquake hits 
west-central Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck west-central Mexico Tuesday night, according to a preliminary earthquake report from the U.S. Earthquake Information Center.

Early reports are that around 19 lives have been lost. The nearest towns to the earthquake were Tecomán 8 miles away and Colima, some 32 miles away, said the report.
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TV show features 'extreme' parts of Costa Rica
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A cable television show, partly produced in Costa Rica, challenged amateur outdoor sporting contestants to endure the natural extremes of the world. The contest will finish on Mount Everest where the first live telecast summit-climb will be attempted.

The Global Extremes: Mt. Everest-4Runners of Adventure show began with 50 participants from the United States. The organizers chose the athletes according to their amateur status in the sporting world and experience in sports like climbing, biking and kayaking. 

These sports do not require fields with chalked-in boundaries or stadium seating for spectators. The first playing grounds were in Utah where the trials included mountain biking through the Arches and Canyonland national parks. Only 24 athletes were judged worthy to continue from Utah to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where the remaining journeyed up to exhausting altitudes.

The herd was thinned after the Rocky Mountains to 12 hopefuls who found themselves facing the world’s most unforgiving climates. These 12 traveled through the Kalahari Desert in South Africa where they rode camels and faced the desert’s harsh lands.

After the desert came the jungles. From one of the driest ecosystems to one of the wettest, the sport-extremists, who survived to fight on, were placed in Costa Rica. The contestants who made it to this stage have not been revealed, because the show is only now being broadcast. The Costa Rican portion of the show will be aired on Mondays in March on the Outdoor Living Network.

There were 11 athletes left when the show arrived in Costa Rica. The challenges before them included jungle trekking, rope courses, mountain biking and sea kayaking. During this stretch the experienced 

outdoors people may have found an unexpected 
sport, off-roading in Tico country. For many Ticos off-roading is the only roading. The challengers traversed the jungles in a Toyota 4Runner.

The competition covered the length of Costa Rica, and during this leg one of the tracks was La Ruta de los Conquistadores. The route stretches 300 miles from the Pacific to the Caribbean, it reaches heights of  12,000 feet and passes through banana plantations and rainforests. The same route is the site of an annual bike race.

Only nine athletes made it to the next level beyond Costa Rica where they confronted Iceland en route to the final reckoning, Mount Everest. 

In May five finalists will find themselves at the base camp of the highest peek in the world. All previous challenges may seem but minor warm-ups for this task. Between 1921 and 2000 more than 160 climbers have left icy-remains on the ascent up Everest. More than 1,300 people have reached the summit, according to EverestNews.com.

A graveyard of ghost-campsites, littered with abandoned tents and unclaimed gear, lines the mountain trail. 

On the mountain, considered the ceiling of the world, climbers may encounter perilous crevasses, unforecasted storms, winds up to 125 mph, avalanches and 40 degrees below zero. 

If the athletes make it above 25,000 feet then they will find themselves in the "death zone" where oxygen levels are less than one-third the amount at sea level.

On May 20 an attempted assault on the summit will be broadcast live. The climb will coincide with the 50-year anniversary of the first successful expedition to reach the top of Everest. On May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to behold the view atop the world.

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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