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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 25
Jo Stuart
About us
Anti-free trade slogans decorate the walls of the national congress. The treaty (TLC in Spanish), George Bush, patriotism and William Walker’s filibuster army of 1856 are all used to make a point. One  political party came out strongly against the treaty Wednesday, but on the retail front, merchants report prices are failing in anticipation of the treaty. See our story HERE!

Just three days here, and student is knifed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four assailants mugged a 19-year-old North Dakota language student and stabbed him twice in the back.

The attack Tuesday night took place in the center of Santa Ana adjacent to the municipal soccer field. The victim, Noah Stoutland, said he was walking to his host family’s house from an Internet cafe. The time was about 8 p.m.

The student said he had been in Costa Rica just three days. He was in Hospital CIMA Wednesday night awaiting the arrival today of his parents. The family live in Fargo, N.D., and Stoutland said he took the year off to learn Spanish. He plans to attend the University of North Dakota next year.

As a result of the attack, the young man said he probably will cut short his language training and return to his home soon.

Stoutland said that as he was walking a young man engaged him in conversation and distracted him. Quickly three more men jumped him. One put him in a headlock, he said, and drove him to the ground.

Thinking quickly, Stoutland, a hockey player, 

said he struggled and pulled out his wallet and threw it into the street. That attracted the attention of the robbers sufficient so that he was able to recover and not lose consciousness. It was then, he said, that he realized that he had been stabbed. The Cruz Roja responded.

Although four individuals were involved in the attack, Fuerza Pública officers said they were able to arrest only two suspects.

One, believed to be the young man who engaged the victim in conversation, is 17. A second is an undocumented Colombian with the last names of Montoya Torres, officials said.

Stoutland said he expected to be in the hospital for three or four more days. 

The attack is more typical of robberies that have taken place in the center of San  José. Even there robbers are slow to use knives or guns. The Fuerza Pública is cracking down on lawbreakers in the central city, perhaps encouraging them to seek greener pastures in the suburbs, like Santa Ana to the west.

Several Santa Ana residents, including a businessman, expressed surprise at the crime, which was well known throughout the town by midday.

Mother Nature sends an early wake-up call
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday began very early for many people in almost the whole country.

An earthquake of 5.5 magnitude was felt all over Costa Rica and northern Panamá with minor intensity in the Northern Zone and northern Guanacaste, said Juan Seguro, seismologist of the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica.

The earthquake hit at  5:59 a.m. and was located 20 kms. (12 miles) northwest of Punta Burica in the Pacific Ocean. The quake was an estimated 15 kms. (nine miles) deep. 

According to the observatory, the southern zone was where reports of major intensity orginated. Persons on the Caribbean north to Limón also reported feeling the quake. Areas near the epicenter experienced falling objects but no serious human or material damage. 

That area has a history of quakes. A 5.5 magnitude quake hit Jan. 7 at 4:42 a.m. less than two miles west of Puerto Armuelles in Panamá. Of course, the early morning Christmas earthquake originated in the same area. That was a 6.1 magnitude quake that hit about 1:14 a.m. over the border in Panamá. A child died from a falling wall in that quake.

Eight dwellings in the cantons of Corredores, Golfito and Coto Brus suffered damage, according to the Comisión Nacional de 
Prevensión de Riesgos y Atención de 

Comisión Nacional de Prevensión de Riesgos y 
Atención de Emergencias graphic
Map shows epicenter location

Emergencias. Two bridges on the Interamerican Highway also suffered damages, the commission said. The bridges were between Puerto Jiménez and Conchales.

The Hospital de Ciudad Neily, heavily damaged in the Christmas quake, also suffered some damage Wednesday. Some windows were broken, some ceiling tiles fell and bottles of non-toxic chemicals broke in the x-ray area, the commission said.

The section of Costa Rica closest to the quake is the lightly populated peninsula that  runs from Playa Banco to Punta Burica.

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Heavy-duty weapons from Nicaragua fall into trap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators broke up an arms shipment Tuesday night when they stopped a vehicle headed south and carrying 52  weapons, including two Uzi submachineguns.

Four men who were in the truck were detained, said agents.

The Fuerza Pública and the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional have been conducting an intense investigation to try to stop arms shipments from Nicaragua to points south. Agents did not say where the weapons were headed, but war-torn Colombia is a likely destination. Nicaragua has an excess of weapons generated by its civil war in the 1980s.

Some 47 of the weapons were AK-47, so-called assault rifles. One was a Russian-made RPK, a 

Kalashnikov light machinegun. Another was 
identified as a G-3, probably the West German Heckler & Koch G3 machinegun. Ammunition and clips also were confiscated.

Rogelio Ramos, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said the arrests were the result of a long investigation of guns coming from Nicaragua into Costa Rica.

Capt. José Domingo Cruz, chief of the Fuerza Pública in that section of the country, said the guns entered Costa Rica on a small boat that docked at the port of Soley, where the weapons were loaded onto the vehicle. Officers surprised the four men with a roadblock not far from where the guns were delivered.

The men were identified as three Costa Ricans with the names of López, Mata and Jiménez and a man named Tapia from Panamá.

Canada gives support
for Rodríguez bid

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canada will support the candidacy of former president Miguel Angel Rodríguez, who is seeking a top hemispheric post.

Canada’s backing was outlined Wednesday in a release from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto here. 

The message came from Louise L. Leger, the Canadian ambassador here, according to the ministry. Rodríguez seeks to be secretary general of the Organization of American States.

With Canada’s backing, Rodríguez will be a candidate with balanced backing from North, south and Central America as well as the Caribbean, said Roberto Tovar Faja, the chancellor or foreign minister. Tovar is working to make the Rodríguez appointment one of consensus.

The United States has yet to indicate its position on the post. Rodríguez now has 22 votes committed from as many nations.

Raids net suspects
in robbery cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators conducted two sets of raids Wednesday and made arrests in robbery investigations.

The first raids were at two dwellings in Concepción de Tres Ríos where officers arrested a 24-year-old man who is a suspect in the holdup of a messenger who carried nearly $30,000 from the Liceo Franco Costarricense Tuesday morning. In a second raid nearby, a suspect was apprehended and police said they found bullets of a type used in the shootout and robbery.

The second set of raids involved three dwellings in Pavas. Two men underwent arrest to face multiple robbery allegations involving at least three holdups. The men were believed to be members of a local gang and may have been involved in a running gun battle from Escazú to Pavas last week. Several weapons were confiscated

Peace Corp volunteers
in rural development

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Peace Corps in Costa Rica has 20 volunteers working in rural community development with the Dirección Nacional de Desarrollo de la Comunidad, according to Jim Criste, the country director here.

And 20 new trainees will be working with the same agency when they complete their training and are sworn in this April, he said.

Criste was commenting on a story Wednesday that said incorrectly that the Peace Corp volunteers were working exclusively with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia. Some 34 volunteers are with the child welfare agency, but the rural development volunteers were sworn in last May.

New coast guard station

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country will inaugurate a new, $410,000 station for the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas Friday in Quepos on the Pacific coast.

The structure was built with financial aid from the United States. The station is expected to help with sea rescues and in the fights against drug trafficking, illegal fishing and the illegal shipment of persons.

Pacheco promises Limón
a new soccer stadium

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Limón will get a soccer stadium, President Abel Pacheco promised Wednesday.  Pacheco said that the Province of Limón has been neglected in the sports area and this had led to problems with youth.

The new stadium will hold nearly 4,000 persons and cost nearly $1 million, according to estimates released by Casa Presidencial.

In addition, some 80 million colons, nearly $200,000, will go to refurbish the Limón baseball stadium.

Bees kill Nicoya man

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 50-year-old man, Justo Díaz Hernández, died about 2 p.m. Tuesday when he was set upon by bees while working on a ranch near Nicoya.

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Acción Ciudadana does not want tariffs eliminated
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Partido Acción Ciudadana came out clearly and strongly Wednesday against the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

But on the retail front, merchants reported that prices are beginning to fall in anticipation of the treaty going into force.

In a statement, Acción Ciudadana said that the treaty represented a slow dismantling of social rights. The political party also objected to reforming the state by means of a commercial instrument negotiated outside the country by a small group of persons.

In more specific terms, Acción Ciudadana, which is one of the minority parties in the Asamblea Nacional, objected to the elimination of import tariffs that would allow cheaper U.S. products and services to enter the local market.

One key objection was to the effect of eliminating of tariffs or import duties. These fees that are 

added on to imports and become part of the local sales price generate $60 million a year for the country, the political parties statement said. Better that this money continue to be collected and invested in social programs for the country, it added.

Retailers reported Wednesday that they have seen reductions in wholesale prices and increases in retailer discounts. The speculation was that manufacturers and distributors were trying to reduce their profits so that they would be well positioned if U.S. companies rush in to compete. Reductions were seen in paper products and some cosmetics. Reductions ranged from 5 to 15 percent, one merchant said.

Some wholesale prices here are more than double what wholesale prices are on the same products in the United States, and that price does not reflect import duties because the products are local, one merchant said.

A grocer said he was passing the reductions along to his customers.

Democracy activists wrestled with the contradiction of Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

DURBAN, South Africa — Hundreds of democracy activists from around the world are meeting here for the third assembly of the World Democracy Movement. They agree on the need to strengthen and build democracy worldwide, but they often disagree on exactly what that means. 

The conference has produced some surprising contradictions. Many of the African delegates at the conference are in a quandary over Cuba. It is hard to ignore the presence of several Cuban dissidents who have turned up on panels and workshops to discuss the repression in their homeland, and their efforts to bring democratic change from exile. 

But in Africa, Cuban leader Fidel Castro is often seen as a champion of African independence and liberation from colonialism. 

At a plenary session, Zimbabwean opposition politician Moses Nzila-Ndlovu stood and mused on the contradiction. Speaking to a Cuban panelist, he said the Cuban government strongly supported the Zimbabwean liberation movement and helped the black majority gain independence from white minority rule more than 20 years ago. 

"I happen to have been trained by Cuban soldiers in Angola in 1976, as a fighter for independence," he said. "But as you give an account of the events in Cuba since then up to now, what I find striking most is the similarity in degree of repression in 

Cuba and the extent to which Robert Mugabe has borrowed in terms of the viciousness of a dictatorship in Zimbabwe." 

His remarks elicited a sympathetic response from Cuban democracy activist Anna Isabel Rodríguez, who works with an exile group in Spain. 

"One of the things that sometimes is confusing for the people outside Cuba is that the Cuban government has built an image of fighters for the freedom of poor people all over the world," she said. "And I understand perfectly how difficult it is for people in Africa and in Latin America to understand that even though these standards of freedom have been exported by the Cuban government, they do not apply these standards inside." 

Other delegates have wrestled with similar contradictions regarding different countries. In a private conversation after one session, a former South African anti-apartheid fighter recalled his military training in Moscow. Like Cuba, the Soviet Union supported the South African liberation struggle and many here still think of it as a force for positive change and freedom from tyranny. 

But at the democracy conference, that history has run up against another history, the legacy of repression in the former Soviet republics and the formerly Communist nations of eastern and central Europe. Delegates from those countries are here as well, and they are sharing stories of their own oppression, liberation and democratic transition. 

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Venezuelan opposition seeking U.S. observers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  Opposition leaders are appealing to the United States to send an observer mission to monitor developments involving a petition for a referendum on President Hugo Chavez's continued rule.

Venezuelan opposition leaders are expressing deep concerns about the fate of more than three million signatures collected last year in support of a referendum that, if carried out, could oust President Chavez from power. Venezuela's National Election Commission, which is comprised of both backers and opponents of the embattled Chavez, is charged with determining the validity of the signatures.

Chavez opponents accuse the populist president of economic mismanagement and abuse of authority. For his part, President Chavez has called the referendum initiative a "mega fraud" and blasted the opposition's tactics, including a crippling two-month national strike last year that inflicted nearly $8 billion in economic losses.

Speaking to reporters in Washington Wednesday, Venezuelan labor leader Manuel Cova said the National Election Commission must operate with complete openness and transparency in judging the validity of the referendum petition drive. Another opposition leader, former Venezuelan Sen. Timoteo Zambrano, said that the only way to assure transparency is through the presence of international observers.

"We are asking representatives of the U.S. Congress

about the possibility of sending a legislative 
delegation to Venezuela to observe all sectors of society as the process [of checking signatures] goes forward," said Zambrano.

Last month, at the conclusion of a weeklong trip to Venezuela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the Venezuelan people remain committed to democracy, and that he believed the National Election Commission would make what he termed "the proper decision" regarding the referendum petition.

President Chavez, a former army paratrooper and self-proclaimed champion of Venezuela's poor, was first elected in 1998 and re-elected for a six-year term in the year 2000. A constitution ratified in 1999 allows for a referendum to be held midway through a president's term in office if 2.4 million signatures are collected in support of the measure. 

Pro-Chavez rally
marks failed coup

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands of supporters of President Hugo Chavez rallied Wednesday here on the 12th anniversary of a failed coup led by Chavez. 

Chavez led efforts to overthrow President Carlos Andres Pérez Feb. 4, 1992. The failed coup is known for launching Chavez's political career. He was elected president in 1998 and survived a short-lived coup in 2002. 

Management of Caribbean wetlands will be topic
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, fla. — A conference here March 21 to 26 is designed to focus attention on the management of freshwater watersheds and marine ecosystems in the more than 30 nations and territories that make up what is called the wider Caribbean region.

Nearly 500 people are expected at what is billed as the "White Water to Blue Water Partnership Conference," which will also explore best ways to promote environmentally sound marine transportation and sustainable tourism in the wider Caribbean. The United States is serving as one of the co-chairs of the conference.

Representatives from many governments in the Caribbean region and from El Salvador and Brazil are scheduled to meet at the conference with representatives of civil society, international organizations, foundations, and the private sector to identify new ways of protecting the wider Caribbean's watershed and marine ecosystem.

First announced at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the U.S.-led White Water Partnership aims to engage business partners in promoting economic growth in the Caribbean in 

such areas as tourism and marine transportation.

The State Department said in an October 2003 fact sheet that it and a number of other U.S. federal agencies have provided substantial financial backing for the partnership. Also providing support are many governments in the wider Caribbean, and such countries as the United Kingdom, France and Canada.

The department said the White Water initiative promotes regional cooperation and strengthens  a country’s capacity to address land-based sources of marine pollution such as sewage, industrial discharges and agricultural run-off. In addition, the initiative promotes sustainable fisheries and better agricultural and forestry practices, and it seeks to reduce degradation of coastal areas. The State Department said the outcomes from the White Water initiative in the Caribbean will serve as a blueprint for future efforts to protect watersheds in Africa and the South Pacific.

The steering committee for the White Water partnership said it welcomes involvement from the public and private sectors in the plan. More information about the partnership is available online at: http://www.ww2bw.org.

Jo Stuart
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