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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 17
Jo Stuart
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Flamingo's loss is a big boost for Playas del Coco
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first cruise ship to anchor at Playas del Coco will arrive Feb. 1 to begin a twice weekly visit. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said that the arrival will be the first time that a cruise ship has docked at Playas del Coco, Guanacaste. 

The sailing ship, the Wind Star, will arrive from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. 

The luxury ship has a capacity of 250 persons and will anchor every Tuesday in February and March, said tourism officials. There is no large dock in Playas del Coco so passengers will be taken ashore by small boats. Previously the ship had docked at Flamingo. But the marina there has closed down.

The Wind Star is well-known on the Pacific coast, and it sails with computer controlled sails.

Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, the tourism minister said that this cruise is of great importance to Costa Rica, especially for the Province of Guanacaste. Castro said that the cruises to Costa Rica have increased every year. 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Wind Star at Flamingo in 2002

Maritza Barrera, a representative of businesses in the Coco area said, " This is going to be without doubt a great benefit for everyone." Barrera said that businesses in the tourism industry have been working hard to make sure that the arrival of the cruise ships in Playas del Coco is not just for one year. 

When the ship leaves Coco, it goes to Quepos.

Lawmakers take a step to speed bill approval
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislative deputies took a step to change their internal rules Monday in an effort to sidestep the Movimiento Libertario that has been blocking major proposals.

The change would allow 38 deputies, two thirds, to vote to give special treatment to certain legal proposals. This would let major legislation to be passed without continuous stalling and sidetracking that has characterized the debate strategy of the libertarians, a minority in the chamber.

Deputies Monday agreed to consider this change in the internal rules the whole time that they meet each day until there is a resolution. They placed the internal change in the No. 1 position in the legislative agenda. Otherwise, the measure would have received an airing for just an hour of the three hours the deputies meet in general session each afternoon.

If the internal change is passed, the majority

would be able to cut off debate and expedite a decision on certain key bills.

The most sweeping of these is the proposed new fiscal package that will impose $500 million in new taxes, by enacting a value-added tax and global income tax. The libertarians oppose the measure.

President Abel Pacheco, in a letter to the Movimiento Libertario deputies released Monday, blamed them for holding up the new taxes for two and a half years. The libertarians consider this an accomplishment.

Also considered key and likely to be considered under the new rule are the proposed changes to the immigration law and the proposed law of liberty of expression and the press. These, too, have been in the legislature for at least two years.

However, deputies Monday rejected a proposal by the libertarians that they meet in special session for the next three mornings at 8:45 a.m.

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600 are still in shelters
in the Talamanca area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six temporary shelters still are housing more than 600 persons in the Talamanca area, disaster officials said Monday.

However, shelters in Sarapiquí and Matina have closed because government officials have distributed funds to provide displaced residents with three months rent.

The shelters that remain open are in a clinic in Sepeke, in a school at Chase, Rancho Turístico in Suretka and schools in Bribri, Catarina and Celia. 

The Talamanca area was hard hit by the storms that ravaged the Caribbean coast in early January, but the area also has experienced more recent rains. The population is largely Bribri Indians.

Disaster officials said that Monday the biggest job was in providing clothes for those in the affected zones. Two trucks with clothing for Matina and Sarapiquí were expected to leave early today from the central distribution center in San José where volunteers still are sorting donated items.

Local distribution will be handled by the emergencies committee in each location, officials said.

Meanwhile, weather forecasters say there is a chance of more rain today in the affected sectors.

The flooding caused millions in damage to bridges roads, buildings and agriculture. Banana production is hit hard. Sixaola, a flooded out town on the Panamá border will be relocated to higher ground, officials have decided.

Eight persons died from the flooding or in other ways attributed to the disaster.

Tuna commission plans
to have an office here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Interamerican Tropical Tuna Commission will establish an office in Costa Rica.

That was announced Monday by the foreign mininstry. The commission was created in 1950 as part of a regional treaty to regulate tuna fishing in the eastern pacific.

Roberto Tovar Faja, the minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, met with Robin Allen, the director of the commission.

The organization also has responsibilities for dolphin conservation.

Tovar said that the opening of the office here validates the country’s efforts to protect and take care of its natural resources.

Costa Rica exports tuna to 26 countries, a $50 million a year industry.

Tovar said he hopes that with passage of the Central American free trade treaty tuna processed here would be able to enter the U.S. market without import duties.

Dutch tourist dies
in whitewater mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Dutch tourist died Sunday while whitewater rafting. 

The tourist, Henk Sloot Beek, 55, was with a group who went whitewater rafting on the Río Sarapiquí.  Officials from the Cruz Roja of Sarapiquí said that they believe the man fell from the raft and hit his head, "It is possible that he had a heart attack and then fell from the raft, but we will have to wait for the autopsy," said an official. 

Sloot Beek was on a Pozo Azul whitewater rafting tour organized by the travel agency he used to come to Costa Rica. Celia Quintana, in charge of marketing at the rafting company Hacienda Pozo Azul, said that all the necessary safety procedures had been followed. The tourists were asked to fill out health forms and the rafts were accompanied by guides in kayaks who would help in any emergency, she said. 

Monteverde water pipe
has necessary permits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte said Monday that a pipeline being installed on the public right-of-way near Monteverde has the necessary permits.

The pipeline, designed to carry irrigation water to an agricultural project, has been the object of protest by Monteverde residents and those who live in Santa Elena nearby.

The ministry said the project has the approval of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía and of the municipality, as well as a permit to open a ditch along the public road, Ruta Nacional 606. The operators have deposited $9 million colons, some $19,500 to insure correct completion of the work, the ministry said.

Unhappy residents say they fear the project will take too much water from sources on which the towns rely.

Canadian man found dead

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The body of a Canadian was found Saturday at a house in Puntarenas. The dead man is Eugene Bernard, 81. He was found at his home close to the University Hispanoamericana. 

Officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization said that he had been dead for more than four days and that they believe he may have suffered from a weak heart. Medication was found in the house. 

The body was transferred to the Medicatura Forense in San Jose de Flores where an autopsy will determine the cause of death. 

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Quake on the coast is felt in Central Valley, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake rattled most of Costa Rica on Monday afternoon. The quake rolled through the country at 11:45 a.m. with a preliminary magnitude of 4.2.

According to researchers at the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico Costa Rica, the quake originated 25 kms. southwest of Jacó (15.5 miles) and 22 kms. (14 miles) deep. Researchers at the seismic activity observatory said that the quake was a relatively small event, but due to its proximity to the Pacific coast, it was felt throughout the country.

Areas around Jacó, including Playa Herradura, Parrita and Dominical felt the brunt of the temblor, but the quake made its presence known throughout the Central
Valley. The quake shook the country for several 

seconds, but little damage was reported. 

The epicenter of the quake was very close to the center of the stronger quake that rocked Costa Rica, Nov. 20. According to Ronnie Quintero, a seismologist at the national observatory, the two quakes were different in origin. "The quake on Sunday involved two continental plates, but the one in November only used one," he said by telephone Monday. "People are worried about the position of the quake, that it might create a tsunami. The quake wasn’t large enough to cause any wide spread damage."

The earthquake was actually Costa Rica’s second on Monday. Earlier at 9:25 a.m. a quake began 90 kms. west of Tamarindo, with a preliminary magnitude of 4.3. The quake was only felt on the Pacific shoreline, however, because it was farther away.

Six weeks of poetry will include contest for authors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Starting Jan. 30 Costa Rica will embark on some six weeks of poetry. The event is the Festival de Poesía Pregoneros de la Memoria or festival of poems delivered from memory. A contest is included.

The event is being sponsored by the Asociación Costarricense de Escritoras and the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes. Public libraries are taking part, too.

Alianza Francesa also is helping and will present a poetry festival Jan. 31, which is the national day of poetry. The center of the event will be the ministry, the former liquor factory just east of Parque España in north San José.

Planned for that day are poetry marathons, audiovisuals and a 7 p.m. closing event with the Escuela de Circo de Granada.

The celebration includes a poetry contest in which the public can participate free. The contest is called Un día en San José, and entries are supposed to be humorous. Eligible are Costa Ricans or residents of the country 18 or older. Poems can be received via this e-mail address:

Deadline is March 4 at midnight. Entries will be posted HERE!  No language was specified in the ministry announcement.

As an additional benefit, La Librería Francesa on Avenida 1 will give away a poem with each purchase.

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Big summit planned next month on money laundering
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A conference to help the world's financial industry fight money laundering will be held in Miami, Fla., Feb. 9-11.

Organizers of the conference say it aims to educate financial institutions on compliance in today's regulatory environment, including complying with the provisions of the USA Patriot Act, and to help these institutions maintain "a competitive edge by utilizing modern technology and best practices."

The event will feature professionals in the legal, regulatory, and financial industries who will update conference attendees on new legislation and recommend practical compliance solutions. The conference is designed for money transmitters in the United States and abroad, financial regulators, compliance officers, private banking managers, trade finance managers, broker dealers, attorneys, and accountants.

Organizers for the conference include the Federation of Latin American Banks, which represents more than 700 banking and financial institutions from 19 countries throughout Central and South America, and the non-profit Florida International Bankers Association, which represents more than 70 U.S. and foreign banks from 18 countries. 

That association's executive director, Pat Roth, says that under the USA Patriot Act, "everyone in the financial industry is now subject to new laws and regulations, not just banks." Broker dealers, money transmitters, check cashiers, and other financial entities in the United States and Latin America "need to understand their responsibilities and obligations" under the Patriot Act, said Roth.

The USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2001, is designed to expand intelligence and law enforcement capability to identify and disrupt terrorist activities. 

A number of participants from the U.S. government are scheduled to speak at the Miami event, including William Fox, director of the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; Lester Joseph, acting chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section; and Herbert Biern, senior associate director of the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Supervision and Regulation. Other speakers include John O'Hara, senior investigative counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and Carter McDowell, chief counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Financial Services.

The Treasury Department's enforcement network says money laundering involves criminals who disguise financial assets by converting them into seemingly legitimate income. The network says money laundering can have "devastating social consequences." For instance, money laundering provides funds for drug dealers, terrorists, arms dealers, and other criminals to operate and expand their criminal enterprises. Left unchecked, money laundering can erode the integrity of national financial institutions, according to the network.

Organizers of the Miami conference say that for more than two decades, the financial industry has played an important role in the fight against money laundering. Originally asked to help in the war against illicit drugs and money laundering related to the illegal drug trade, the financial industry is now "doing its part to help prevent the use of the financial system to fund terrorism or other illicit activities," the organizers say.

Conference organizers add that both banking regulators and the financial industry have taken their additional responsibilities under the USA Patriot Act "very seriously," with banks making significant investments in sophisticated software and hiring additional staff, while the regulatory bodies have issued severe penalties in the form of "cease and desist orders" and monetary fines for banks and other financial entities that have not met the strict compliance guidelines under the USA Patriot Act.

Ecstasy suspect brought from Canada to face charges in the U.S.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Jan. 18 extradition of Drug Enforcement Agency Priority Target Ze Wai Wong from Canada to the United States marks the culmination of a two-year investigation and the dismantlement of an international drug-trafficking operation that supplied 15 percent of the U.S. Ecstasy market, according to an agency press release.

Ze Wai Wong was arrested in Canada, March 31, 2004, along with more than 130 defendants in 16 cities across the United States, as part of an investigation dubbed Operation Candy Box — a two-year multi-jurisdictional 

and international Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, the agency spokesmen said.

Operation Candy Box revealed that bulk quantities of ecstasy tablets were being produced in clandestine labs in Canada and smuggled into the United States.

Three Canadian labs were shut as a result of the investigation, and the U.S. ecstasy market was crippled, the release said. The agency pointed to an 8 percent increase in the average price of an ecstasy tablet and a 10.8 percent decrease in the average purity of the tablets as evidence of the impact of Operation Candy Box.

Jo Stuart
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