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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 1, 2002
Jo Stuart
About us
Could soccer
tilt election?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday is election day in Costa Rica, and latest polls show the gaps between the leading three candidates to be closing.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6  p.m.

Meanwhile, the voting results can be affected by the outcome of the Saturday Gold Cup soccer final between Costa Rica and the United States national teams. That game begins at 2  p.m., and a victory by Costa Rica probably would favor Abel Pacheco, candidate of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana. The current president, Miguel Angel Rodríguez is of the same party, and Rodríguez has tried to share fame with the national soccer team.

Costa Rica beat the United States when they last met here for a World Cup Match.

A defeat of Costa Rica by the United States might generate discontent with the status quo and a national backlash that could favor Rolando Araya of the Partido Liberación Nacional or Ottón Solís, the reformist candidate for Partido Acción Ciudadana.

One poll shows Araya leading slightly. Many other polls show Pacheco in the lead with about 30 percent, but not with enough votes to prevent an April 7 runoff with the next highest vote getter. All but that one poll shows Solís and Araya slugging it out for second place with 24 to 25 percent of the vote. 

Solís has been hurt in the last week by attack advertising from the Liberación Party that accused him of failing to report income for taxes purposes and of forcing a family out of their home to collect on a mortgage. Whether or not the allegations were true, the campaign was professionally directed and executed.

Sunday is also the day for the U.S. Superbowl XXXVI which pits the St. Louis Rams against the New England Patriots. The game in new Orleans begins at 5:33 p.m. Costa Rican time. Festivities by North Americas will be short circuited because election laws prohibit the sale of alcohol Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

U.S. moves against
cartel companies

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Treasury Under Secretary Jimmy Gurule has announced action blocking U.S. residents from doing business with 12 companies and 15 individuals in Mexico and the Caribbean accused of money laundering for drug cartels.

The action also freezes assets of those persons and entities in U.S. banks and financial institutions.

At a press conference Thursday, Gurule said eight of the companies, including the drugstore chain Farmacia Vida Suprema, were believed to be owned or controlled by the leaders of the Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization based in Tijuana, Mexico.

He said another company, which runs the Oasis Beach Resort in Baja California, Mexico, was owned or controlled by an Arellano Felix associate.

In St. Kitts and Nevis, he said, the companies include local subsidiaries of multinational corporations DHL Worldwide Express and Freight Movers International. He said these subsidiaries were under the control of Glenroy Vingrove Matthew, a member of a drug trafficking organization with strong ties to South American sources.

"Today we send a very clear message to those who support the drug traffickers financially by devising schemes to legitimize their dirty money by operating front companies that allow drug proceeds to infiltrate legitimate-looking businesses," Gurule said in a written statement.

The actions were the first taken under the 1999 Drug Kingpin Act to incapacitate the financial networks supporting drug traffickers. 

Rumsfeld  warns of new,
creative terrorist threats

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States must be on guard against terrorist attacks "vastly more deadly" than those of Sept. 11.

In a major speech Thursday at the National Defense University here, Rumsfeld warned that new adversaries may strike in unexpected ways with weapons of increasing range and power.

U.S. officials say documents recently found in Afghanistan suggest that members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network have been planning to attack U.S. nuclear facilities, possibly in the northwestern state of Washington.

The officials said the documents included diagrams of American nuclear power plants, and a picture of the Space Needle building in Seattle, Washington, one of the state's most recognizable landmarks.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The Many Faces of Waste

Lately I have been thinking a lot about waste. I suppose it began when I heard that the U.S. government had settled upon Nevada as a dumping ground for nuclear waste and the citizens of Nevada were protesting. It does seem that with each new improvement in energy and speed there has been an increase in waste. We have even left junk in space. 

Did we ever worry, I wonder, about the half-life of horse manure when horses and other animals were our source of energy? Initially, of course, it wasn’t very pleasant, but eventually it was recycled as fertilizer. Nobody wants to fertilize with nuclear waste.

Waste is an interesting word with a lot of interestingly related meanings. It can mean to destroy or devastate, it can mean to squander and it can refer to what is left over and useless, and it can even mean to kill. As I walk along (I am on my way to the Clinica Duran to keep my 7 a.m. doctor’s appointment), I say, "If we continue to waste and make waste, we’ll get wasted." I wonder, does "Haste makes waste." mean that the faster we want to go the more waste products we can expect? 

I once came up with a solution to some of our waste problems. Everyone gets a compactor and turns trash into handy little bricks, then covers the bricks with epoxy and builds a house with them. Thus we can live in our waste before it buries us. I have not patented this idea.

Sometimes we waste without meaning to. Years ago I was staying with friends in Brazil and threw away what I thought was an empty tube of shampoo. Their maid pulled my tube from the waste basket and showed me, by slitting it open with a razor, that I had at least three more shampoos left in that tube. To this day I wonder how much toothpaste and creams and (you name it) are left in our new and better packaging.

The route I take to the clinic begins with a shortcut down the hill on a path that is lined with garbage and tall grass so I look out for rats and snakes. I never have seen them, but I do see again the homeless man sleeping against the last house on the hill. It also takes me through a very poor barrio and as I walk I get annoyed with people who lament every abortion and say that there is enough food to feed every person conceived. 

Enough food is not the problem, distribution is. And even if there were enough food, would we be able to handle the extra waste and garbage? I think this as I see garbage bags stacked up on the street and smell the fumes from a sewer. I also wonder if there is as much lamenting over infant mortality.

I arrive at the clinic, check in, open my book and settle down to wait for a while. The place is filled with people so I expect a long wait, but by 9:30, I am beginning to wonder. The doctor is seeing people who have come in after me. I go up to the desk and ask when I can expect to be seen? The woman takes some time finding my file then tells me that my name was called but I was absent. No, my name was not called, I insist. Muttered, maybe, but not called, or maybe it was pronounced so creatively I didn’t understand it. 

The custom in the clinic is for the exiting patient to call the next person. Stuart is not easy to say for a Spanish speaker. The clerk takes my file to a cubicle where a nurse is taking blood pressure and tells me to stand in that line, showing me by putting her thumb and index finger just a hair apart, that the wait will be short. But it isn’t. The nurse takes everyone’s pressure but mine. I have asked, and their appointments are for 10 a.m. I am getting annoyed. 

Finally, when she takes my blood pressure, it is higher than usual. I am not surprised. I go back and sit down and the clerk again makes her finger gesture. She has put my file in the doctor’s office. I expect to be called momentarily. At 10:10 I am beginning to wonder why this appointment was made in the first place. I had seen another doctor a month before and she scheduled this appointment but she is not here. For the life of me I cannot think what I am going to tell this doctor. 

I am too angry to listen to what he may tell me, so I get up, tell the clerk, thank you, but I can’t wait any longer. I march out of the clinic and stand outside wondering whether I should take a bus or a taxi home. Then I realize I am so angry, that the adrenaline must be accumulating in my system. We pump adrenaline (epinephrine) when we are frightened or mad — in moments of high emotion — and it helps us in the flight or fight response. 

But in our modern society it is difficult to fight or flee. I am convinced that adrenaline becomes dangerous waste in our bodies and makes us sick if we don’t get rid of it. So I decide I better walk home — fast. As I go along I begin to think of the ways I can cut down on my own wasteful ways. 

More Jo Stuart, click HERE

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A.M. Costa Rica graphic
by Jere McKinney

Mr. McKinney has nearly three decades in construction in Costa Rica and wrote this advisory at the request of A.M. Costa Rica

Many first time visitors to this lovely country, after having toured around for a week or two, start thinking seriously about the possibility of moving down here to live.

Our next-door neighbors, a German couple, did just this and are permanently gardening away year round — something they could never do at home in the old country.

If you are considering such a move and considering buying or renting a house, you should know that things are not necessarily as they seem.

Here are a few things to watch out for:

PLUMBING — The house may be quite luxurious looking and yet not have any provision for hot water under the kitchen sink or in the bathroom. Sometimes there is hot water in the shower or tub but none either at the bathroom or kitchen sinks, or there is a second bath (for a maid’s quarters or guest room) which does not have hot water plumbing at all. 

The shower (tubs, are less likely to be installed if the home is not a more luxurious one) drain may have an aluminum insert with holes in it. This is a type of trap for keeping hair and such out of the drain, as well as to maintain a small ring of water underneath it to keep out odors. Often this plug is very difficult to remove for cleaning. 

There are stainless steel covers also, but usually these do not have an odor trap (if you are lucky there could be a P-Trap installed on the drain itself, below the level of the floor. You will find out soon enough!) Check to see that the water level is good in the toilet bowl and that there is no sign of movement. Either one will indicate that there are problems with the float and flapper mechanisms in the tank. 

Also, look to see if the toilet seems to be screwed down to the floor. Many of the early plumbers would just anchor the unit down on the floor with gray cement and it can be a bear to re-anchor properly. If there is a tub installed, check to see that there is a good seal between the tub and the wall on the sides and back, and the seal on any sliding doors that might be installed on the front side. 

Also, look to see if there has been any provision for access to the tub and shower faucet plumbing. If there are problems it can be very difficult to get in there for repairs. If everything seems to be well sealed up, and there is no sign of water damage, its probably OK. Watch out for proper drainage cleanouts, especially for the kitchen. There should be concrete lidded cleanouts for rain water, gray water and sewage all around the house. These lids can be lifted off to expose the drain pipes and feed pipes for the household plumbing. So check to see that they are clean and operative

ELECTRICAL — Concerning that electrical shower heater humorously known as a suicide shower: It looks quite menacing since there are electric cables visible to the unit and it is located right on the feed pipe to the shower nozzle. These are quite efficient little units and will usually give you a good, hot shower. They have a rubber diaphragm inside the unit which engages the 110-volt current to a heater coil when you turn the water on. 

The higher pressure you allow, the cooler the water will be. Usually you will open the faucet moderately to get a good temperature. You need to be sure that the unit is protected with a fuse, preferably being a separate circuit altogether, and be on a 30-amp breaker at the main breaker box.

Its rare to find any middle- or upper-class home which is not protected with a breaker box system of fuses. The norm is to have a large knife switch, located at or near the electric meter, which is for cutting off all electricity to the house. Then the main cables lead into the breaker box, usually in the kitchen or pila areas. 

The pila is a large, usually cast concrete sink, which is used for household laundry and cleaning work. The pila room is where the washer and dryers would normally be located. Probably the next main concern with the electrical system would be the 

grounding of the 110-volt outlets. You can look to see if the outlets are two or three hole to determine this. 

The third hole, for the grounding part of the plug, may be there but might not be hooked to a physical grounding wire. This is a U.S. standard, but here it has been severely lacking in most homes, except the most modern. It is required for grounding protection on your computers and most electrical
devices except those that come with a two-prong plug. One of those two prongs will be wider and that is so that the unit is properly grounded, but here many electricians either are not informed about this or don't care. 

So you have to use a tester on each outlet to see if it is wired properly. If the house has an attic it would be wise to take a peek up there to see if the main electrical system is distributed through this area. It can look like somebody had a spaghetti fight up there if it is not properly done. You need to look for all the cables being inside conduit, or at least, mounted on the trusses with porcelain insulators. Neatness is a good sign that they did a careful job. Ask to see the latest light bill to get an idea of energy consumption.

STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY—Watch for cracks in the bathroom tiles, on the floor and on the walls. This will indicate you might have serious foundation problems or water seepage under the floors. Another sign of water seepage is a whitish appearance and flakiness around the baseboards and floor areas. If there is moisture underneath. it will usually show up through the floors and bases of the walls. Other wall cracks might be attributed to a poor plastering job and not be structural. 

The depth and length of the crack will tell which of the two it is, usually. Take a walk around the outside of the house and look for tell-tale cracks in the walls and sidewalks. Check for weathering around doors and windows and the condition of the paint and plaster work. If the house has wood siding, it is usually considered to be a cheap house and less preferable, at least by Costa Ricans. (There are some pretty lovely wood structures that are by no means cheap, however.) 

But on any wood structure you need to look very carefully on window sills, and around the perimeter and at the eaves for signs of termite dust. These are like very fine sawdust, but in little balls the color of wood. If the area is quite forested and overgrown, there may be actual termite pathways flowing along the beams. These are like a mud-daubed trail which, when wiped away, will uncover little cream-colored termites scurrying along to keep out of the sunlight. That's not a good sign, and you will certainly have to make a major investment to fix the damage.

ROOFING — Roofing used to be predominately corrugated tin, but now you can find a multitude of materials from the coveted clay tiles (watch that there is a tin roof under these), to the heavier, but more durable, cement tiles; to Panelit, a fiber-cement corrugated roof that is very attractive, light and durable. They now have an imitation tile roof made from tin (formed to look like tiles) and a plastic form of tile as well. They even have asphalt shingles here now. 

All have their advantages and disadvantages of course. For the tin roofs watch out that they are not all rusty and that the slope is adequate for a good runoff. Many of the Costa Rican tin roofs are a very low slope, 15 degrees or less, and this can lead to serious leaking problems with the heavy rains and winds. Watch for signs of leakage in the ceilings as well as the condition of the gutters and downspouts around the house. 

These are the most outstanding items to be looking for in your search for the perfect home to start your new life in Costa Rica. Happy hunting! 

Child abduction case is putting embassy on the spot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The custody battle between a U.S. citizen and his Costa Rican wife may be the first test for new U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich. The irony is that the new ambassador, a Californian, has generally described his role here to advance U.S. investment and commercial interests.

Yet the case of Ralph Stumbo hit the front page of the Naples, Fla., newspaper Sunday, and interest is being generated in the United States, in part because Stumbo is conducting a public relations campaign as part of his efforts to get his son back.

He said that his wife took the son from Naples to Costa Rica after getting  him out of the way with a domestic violence complaint to the local police. He 

Letters about the case: HERE

has documents that show his wife was under a court order to keep the child in Florida until the domestic violence case was settled. Since then he got an uncontested divorce and sole custody of the child from a Florida judge. But the wife has the child.

During his Sept. 25 testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Danilovich, a political appointee, said that ensuring the protection of Americans in Costa Rica will be one of his priorities. The boy involved in the dispute was born in Texas.

Yet traditionally, U.S. embassy employees worldwide try to solve such cases with diplomacy instead of criminal action. The stated concern of the U.S. State Department is that the child not be traumatized by the arrest of one of the parents.

Although an international treaty exists that covers child abductions, even by one of the parents, an embassy spokeswoman was not optimistic, according to the Naples newspaper.

The newspaper quoted Marcia Bosshardt, the embassy press aide, as saying: "An international treaty exists between the two countries but not all points have been agreed upon by both countries so, in this case, local laws apply. Because the child's mother is Costa Rican and because he's residing here now, the laws here apply," 

"This is Costa Rica's decision. Where (Stumbo) is located is where the laws apply. We're all looking at his legal considerations," Bosshardt continued, said the newspaper.

She has not verified those quotes despite attempts to contact her.

Bosshardt’s legal interpretation would be counter to U.S. law that treats child abduction as a federal felony. The case is further clouded because embassy employees took pride a month ago in returning a male U.S. citizen and his two children back to the United States from Moravia. But in that case a federal arrest warrant existed, Interpol was involved and the suspect was not a Costa Rican.

An embassy worker has met with the child, Marco, 3 1/2, and mother, Flor María Gaitán, but there does not seem to be any movement toward resolution. 

A check of U.S. diplomatic efforts to recover children in such cases shows a number of unresolved cases even with such countries as France and Canada. The State Department said that since the 1970s it has been involved in 16,000 such cases. The State Department did say that sometimes a federal arrest warrant puts pressure on the parent who committed the abduction. But it notes that arresting the abducting parent does not guarantee that the child will be returned.

No effort has been reported in Florida to present the case involving Ms. Gaitán to a U.S. grand jury. The Naples newspaper said the U.S. government officials in the states and abroad are keeping tightlipped about the case, calling it unusual without describing why.

Stumbo is in the process of filing papers in an Heredia court to solidify his legal claim to his child. The divorce was uncontested because Stumbo’s former wife had taken the child to Costa Rica and did not return for the court hearing. There always is a chance that her lawyer will seek a new U.S.  or Costa Rican custody hearing.

Meanwhile, Stumbo said that he has been contacted by a major television network that wants to air the story nationwide. From a public relations point of view, Ambassador Danilovich and his staff will not fare well with U.S. opinion if they stress the point that local Costa Rica law trumps a federal child abduction felony.

Stumbo is continuing his efforts to create an organization of aggrieved fathers here in Costa Rica with the theme that Costa Rica law is slanted toward mothers. He is being joined in the effort by James E. Marshall, chairman of the Costa Rica chapter of the Asociación de Padres de Familia Separados: Los Niños Necesitan Ambos Padres, a Spanish organization with similar aims.

Two Indiana musicians 
plan romantic concert

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A master of the clarinet whose mother is Costa Rican and a Basque pianist will give a Classical and Romantic Concert just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, Wednesday, Feb. 13. at 7:30 p.m.

The visiting artists are Christopher Michael Sears Navas and Anouska Antunez. They are representing the University of Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., where Sears Navas is completing his master’s degree in clarinet and Anouska is finishing up his doctorate in music and piano at the School of Music there. 

Navas Sears is the son of Ilse Navas Sears,  Costa Rica, and his grandfather is Lic. Rogelio Navas, who has collaborated with the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center in Los Yoses for many years, according to a center announcement.

The repertoire for the concert in the center’s Teatro Eugene O’Neill includes the works of Johan Baptist Vanhal, Louis Cahurac, Carl Marievon Weber, Bala Kovacs, Pierre Max Duboix and David Baker, integrating harmoniously baroque and contemporary compositions.

Admission is ¢1,500 ($4.35) with students and seniors paying ¢1,000 ($2.90). The concert is part of the Promising Artists of the 21st Century series, said the center.

During their stay in Costa Rica the two artists will visit the Academía de Música Bach, the Universidad Nacional en Heredia and the Escuela Sinfónica Municipal de Cartago.

They also will be part of a program of a concert for seniors in Residencia José Pujol in San Antonio de Belén Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 10:30 a.m. and in the Palacio Municipal of Cartago, Thursday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. Both concerts are free for seniors.

Navas Sears is a resident of Atlanta, Ga., and received his bachelor’s degree in music education in 1999 at the University of Georgia. He has been a member of the Evansville, Ind., Orchestra and the Wind Ensemble of the University of Georgia symphonic Orchestra. He toured Japan in 1999 with the Wind Ensemble

He has just been accepted as a member of the U.S. Army Band where he will tour the world.

Anouska Antunez comes from the Basque part of Spain. At age 8 he entered the Conservatorio de Música de Música Juan Crizóstomo Arriaga in Bilbao to begin his piano studies.  He was graduated in 1991 with the highest honors and received a scholarship that allowed him to study in the Hochschule fur Musik en Vienna, Austria and later in the Akademia Muzcyzna in Poznan, Poland. In 1996 he came to Indiana University to continue his studies.

The University of Indiana, a top-level U.S. institution, offers through its School of Music more than 1,000 presentations each year.

Motorcycle victim
lived here for years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen identified as Erick Edwards, 30, who died early Wednesday when his motorcycle ran off a highway in Barrio Morazan in Pérez Zeledón or San Isidro was a five-year resident of Costa Rica,  according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.  They said he owned a farm nearby and was returning home.

Venezuela linked
to Colombian rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian authorities say they have intercepted a small plane from Venezuela that had entered Colombian airspace with contraband ammunition presumably intended for leftist rebels. 

Officials say the plane illegally entered Colombia and was forced down in Arauca department, a stronghold of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The head of the Colombian Air Force says he suspects the 15,000 rifle cartridges were destined for the guerrilla group, known as the FARC. 

The incident comes one day after the Venezuelan media released a videotape showing a prominent FARC commander talking with several Venezuelan Air Force officials in a jungle hideaway.  The men were purportedly discussing a humanitarian accord to rescue a kidnapping victim. It is unknown whether the Colombian government sanctioned the meeting. 

Officials say they are also investigating a memo leaked to the press where Venezuelan officials allegedly agree to supply the FARC with gasoline and medicine. In return, the rebels allegedly promise not to conduct their operations in Venezuela. 

In another development Thursday, Colombian President Andres Pastrana met with top military and security officials to discuss halting a wave of violence blamed on the FARC, the country's largest rebel insurgency. 

The guerrilla group has been accused of conducting several bomb attacks this week. Tuesday, five civilians and one solider were killed after a remote-controlled car bomb exploded as an army convoy traveled through the southern city of Florencia. 

Three arrests made
in child smugglings

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities say they have broken up a child trafficking ring involving children being smuggled from Latin America to the United States. 

Police have made three arrests in the case. They say two of the suspects, both women, were arrested after arriving at Tijuana International Airport near the U.S. border with six children. Investigators also say the women raised suspicions after booking return flights to Mexico City without the youngsters. 

After questioning the women, police found at least five Salvadoran children living in what authorities described as "deplorable conditions" at a house in central Mexico State. 

Police also say two other people suspected of involvement in the ring have been located in Los Angeles, Calif. It is not clear, however, whether they too have been taken into custody. 

Both the FBI and Salvadoran authorities are assisting in the case. 

It is feared many more children may have been smuggled by the ring. Authorities say they are investigating the possibility the youngsters were being smuggled as part of an adoption for money scheme, child prostitution or organ trafficking. 

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