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(506) 223-1327            Published Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 22             E-mail us    
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Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Confiscated boats:
San Mateo              Captain David                     Monkey                           El Rey
Drug gangs using local fishermen and fishing boats
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are continuing to unmask the drug-related businesses that thrive along the Pacific coast.

Tuesday the director of the Judicial Investigating Organization said three Colombians had been detained as the leaders and recruiters of a gang that transported drugs and provided fuel service for other drug boats.

The gang's existence came to light through seizures of fishing boats with large quantities of cocaine.

For years anti-drug investigators knew that some fishermen on the Pacific coast were involved in trafficking. But only recently did the extent of the operations begin to come to light.

The use of fishing boats to transport drugs have become more popular among smugglers because U.S. Navy and Coast Guard patrols offshore have been effective in snagging the so-called fastboats that are used to transport drugs at high speeds.

Now instead of trying to outrun a military helicopter or a Coast Guard cutter, smugglers are integrating their boats among the many nondescript fishing vessels that populate the offshore waters.

As an example of the boats involved, Jorge Rojas, the Judicial Investigation Organization director, provided some photos of five craft that had been purchased by the men who were arrested.

The five are not showpieces. Instead they show their history of hard use by fishermen.

Rojas said the investigation began in March in Playa el Cochote en Puntarenas. The probe resulted in a flurry of arrests this month.

Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Some $161,000 confiscated in Cartago

The Capitán David, one of the five boats, was confiscated Jan. 21. It contained 2,050 kilos of cocaine, said Rojas. Detained were three Costa Ricans with the last names of Banegas, Carrillo and Gómez.

On the fishing boat San Mateo officers detained three Costa Ricans with the last names of Prado, Gutiérrez and Piedra. Investigators discovered 3,000 liters of fuel presumably bound for the tanks of other drug-smuggling boats.

Monday agents detained a Colombian in San José and a second at his home in Cartago. The man arrested in Cartago, Carlos Reina, is the leader of the gang, said Rojas. The other is Tito Reina.

Also Monday agents found $161,000 in cash and a ship-to-shore radio at the Cartago home.

In Grecia Tuesday agents arrested a third Colombian, this one with the last name of Bolaños, and confiscated 13 luxury automobiles and three motorcycles.

Rojas said that he expected more Costa Ricans will be detained in relation to this case.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 22

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New bilingual school plans
first classes in September


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new bilingual school in Pinilla, Guanacaste, is set to open its doors in September.

The Pinilla Academy International School has scheduled  kindergarten through grade 6 classes in both English and Spanish for this coming year.  Plans include a middle school (grades 7 and 8) which is scheduled to open in 2008, and a high school department (grades 9 through 12) planned for 2009. The goal is to obtain Costa Rican, U.S. and International Baccalaureate Organization accreditation by 2011. 

According to Bill Nevis, chairman of the board of directors, the mission of the school is to provide students an international, college preparatory education with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in an ever-changing environment.  The school is meant to inspire in students the intellectual, linguistic, ecologic, artistic, social and physical skills needed to realize their power as good citizens of local and world communities, he said. 

At a fundraiser this November, community members raised approximately $30,000 for administration and construction of the building, as well as funds to provide a 30 percent scholarship admission to Costa Rican students, said Nevins in a release.

The school was designed by architect Michael Rotundi from RoTo Architects in Los Angeles, California, in collaboration with Carla Carranza and John Osborne of the Laboratory Sustaining Design in Playa Tamarindo, said organizers.

More information concerning the Pinilla Academy is available by contacting info@pinillaacademy.org

Crafts fair this weekend
in Alta Talamanca region


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The workers and artisans of the Alta Talamanca, the home of the BriBri Indians, are having their traditional county fair this weekend.

Starting Friday and running until Sunday at 3 p.m. Playón del Río Telire, close to Suretka, will host a number of exibits and vendors with crafts, organic vegetables and fruits, as well as a traditional corn alcohol.  For the guests that consume a bit to much of the home brew, lodging is available at 2,000 colons ($4) a night.

The fair will be filled with other events like soccer matches, fireworks, and concerts by local and visiting musical groups – including bomberos de Changuinola from Panama.

The Agencia de Servicios Agropecuarios del Ministerio de Producción, the group responsible for organizing the event, said that over 120 families will benefit from the fair. 

Man found dead in Coco hotel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen, a tourist, was found dead in Playas del Coco this Sunday.  The man, identified as Dennis Arweirth, 60, was discovered in his room at Hotel El Coco Palma.  Police said that the death was likely of natural causes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 22






Smoky blaze heavily damages San José school supply store
By Noel Dekking
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A smoky blaze gutted a commercial and storage building in the La Castellana section of San José Tuesday night.

No one suffered injuries, but for a time firemen feared the flames would spread to adjacent structures.

The blaze broke about before 9:20 p.m. in the three-story school supply store. By the time firemen reached the location flames were billowing through the roof and a thick column of smoke rose hundred of feet. Units from all over the metropolitan area responded.

The business, Almacén Silvas, is on Calle 8 between avenidas 8 and 6 in south central San José.

The merchandise destroyed by the flames included school supplies, cosmetics and plastic goods. Firemen said that the plastic materials stored on the top floor melted and created a cap that kept water from reaching the heart of the blaze.

Once the blaze appeared to be controlled, firemen used power equipment, a chain saw and heavy tools to break into adjacent structures where they kept watch to prevent a spreading of the fire. About 11 p.m. firemen reported that there had been little damage to other structures. That was a relief for Douglas Benjamin Escolare Juárez. Earlier he expressed concern because he had a clothing store adjacent and feared smoke damage.

This was the second fire in 24 hours in San José. A series

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Firemen use a snorkel to shoot water on structure's roof

of abandoned home near the Estación al Pacifico were reduced to ashes the evening before.


An angry sidewalk encounter changes the whole day
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff


The hotel cook didn't know that as he went to work Tuesday morning someone would hit him in the head with a steel pipe.

But Pedro Jesús Solano Hernández never made it to his kitchen job in a downtown hotel. As he got off a bus on Avenida 1 near Calle 7, a news vendor exchanged words with him. The outcome was a midday brawl that is becoming more common with frayed nerves in a tightening economy. Violence is growing in the once-peaceful Switzerland of America.

The perplexed Solano said later he did not know the news vendor and did not know the reason for the altercation. The news vendor, a lad of 17, would not discuss the incident. Two bicycle policemen came by and said that they could not make an arrest due to conflicting stories.

Solano said he would seek medical attention and then file a criminal complaint. He had an obvious cut on his head.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
A bloodied Pedro Jesús Solano Hernández
 
 

Both men seem to have been hit by the same piece of steel tubing.


Transport ministry begins effort to keep children safe on the way to school
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry will be checking buses because students start back to public school Monday.

The emphasis on buses is part of a three-pronged strategy to reduce vehicle accidents involving students, according to Karla González, minister.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes also will be distributing 11,000 reflective stickers for youngsters to put on their backpack. For those helping youngsters cross streets, there are 4,000 reflective vests for distribution.
The ministry is basing its campaign on the statistic that 40 percent of accidents involve pedestrians. In addition to checking buses and an educational campaign, the ministry will seek to improve the infrastructure.

Pedestrians are vulnerable in Costa Rica because many roads do not have shoulders and pedestrians have to walk on the traffic lane. The minister said she would urge road builders to consider this as they work.

Minister González said that the buses would be checked for current insurance and mechanical inspection certificates as well as special certificates permitting the driver to transport students.



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 22


The question is can Chávez fill shoes being vacated by Fidel
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

For nearly 50 years, Cuban President Fidel Castro has been Latin America's best-known leftist revolutionary.  Who will wear the revolutionary mantle in the post-Castro era?  Many analysts believe President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela will pick up Castro's banner, but others question whether Chavez will ever attain the Cuban leader's international stature. 

Until disappearing from public view in 2006, Fidel Castro lambasted the United States at every turn.  Chávez, a self-proclaimed socialist, does the same.

"The hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species," Chávez told the U.N. General Assembly.

Chávez viewed Castro as a mentor and friend.  Campaigning for re-election last year, he dedicated his victory to the man he called "the bearded one."

Cuba expert Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy says "Fidel Castro is seen as the revolutionary leader, the historical figure opposed to the United States.  It is that which gave Castro his position, his standing, his stature in Latin America.  Hugo Chávez, clearly, wants to receive that mantle, wants to receive that heritage."

Can he succeed?  Chávez is already emulating the Cuban leader's style of governance, according to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy analysis group.

"I think his commitment to democracy — in terms of rule of law, checks and balances, constraints on his power — I think [is] not too far away from Fidel Castro's.  [Chávez] has a tremendous desire to consolidate and concentrate power in his own hands, to make all decisions.  Just as Fidel Castro made all decisions in running Cuba, he wants to make all decisions in running Venezuela."

But can Chávez capture Fidel Castro's larger-than-life stature?

"Fidel Castro fought the revolution, fought against the Batista government.  He had his troops, he went to the
mountains,” explains Shifter. “This is somebody who is seen as having made a sacrifice, having fought on the basis of ideas and convictions.  Hugo Chávez is somebody seen as being lucky for presiding over a situation of high oil prices and using that as a political instrument."

In the 1960s and '70s, Fidel Castro tried to export communism across Latin America.  In recent years, President Chávez has used his country's vast oil wealth to forge new economic and political ties in the region.  Analyst Wayne Smith says  Chavez's international overtures appear to be meeting less resistance than did Fidel Castro's.

"Castro, for all practical purposes, most of the time, was alone.  There was no one else [championing socialism in Latin America].  Now, Hugo Chávez has all sorts of leftist friends in Latin America to hold hands with," Smith says.

Chávez allies include Bolivian President Evo Morales, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.  However, Chavez's tendency to declare his favorites in other countries' presidential races has led to friction with Peru, and elsewhere in Latin America.

Friction could also be on the horizon between Caracas and Havana, according to analyst Ian Vasquez of the Cato Institute.

"Raul Castro, it is rumored, is not that fond of Hugo Chávez, and will be very careful not to come under his thumb.  He has been under the thumb of his own brother for more than 40 years.  He certainly is not going to want to be under the thumb of a new upstart trying to model himself on his brother.  So there are inevitably going to be some tensions between Cuba and Venezuela."

In an era of growing global energy consumption, analyst Vazquez says, Venezuela's vast oil wealth automatically makes it a player on the world stage, in a way that Cuba never was under Fidel Castro. 

But, he adds, the Venezuelan model, relying heavily on petrodollars to satisfy people's needs, is one that few other nations can follow.


Thieves dash computer hopes for school children in Esterillos Oeste
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A two-room school house that provides for more than 75 children in Esterillos Oeste was broken into on the weekend, and theives made away with 18 computers, monitors and other hardware.

Kurt Raihn, a volunteer computer teacher at the school, arrived to the building Sunday to discover that the lock on the protective bars had been cut and the glass door smashed in.

Kristy Raihn, who volunteers as an English teacher at the school, said that it is not yet known what the education ministry is going to do about the situation, but she and others are trying raise enough money to get them replaced.  Mrs. Raihn said that she is hoping to find local sponsorship
to avoid the problems and costs of shipping computers here and then somehow getting them out of customs.

The Raihns moved here in 2005 from Santa Barbara, California, and currently run a few cabinas for vacationers to the area. Their daughter attended her fifth grade at the school two years ago, and both plan to continue volunteering.

Another resident said that the lack of response by law enforcement has become a reoccurring issue in communities along the central Pacific coast.  Even when thieves are caught they will often be back in the  community within one to two days.  

Information on donations or sponsorship is available by contacting the Raihns at tranquilo_costarica@yahoo.com



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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 22


Rally racing planned for weekend in vicinity of Parrita
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dirt and dust will by flying this Saturday at the road racing competition in Parrita on the central pacific coast.

The first stretch of the 27th annual Campeonato Nacional de Rally Mapache 2007 begins at 8:23 a.m. and the courses will be open to free public viewing.

Rally racing in Costa Rica can be traced back as far as 1911 when team Bliss and Erb raced their car from San José to Cartago.  The combination of high speeds, a dirt track,
dust-filled air, and sharp turns make it necessary for rally cars to have an onboard navigator to accompany the drivers.

One of the more popular Costa Rican duos is Israel Aizenman and Arturo Suárez who race for team Mitsubishi.  In 2002 they became the first Costa Ricans to make it onto the world rankings.

The event was organized by the Costa Rican Asociación Organizadora de Rallies.  Other dates for the competition are April 21 and 22, June 16 and 17, Aug. 25 and 26, Oct. 20 and 21, and Nov. 18.


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