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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 7, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 27
Jo Stuart
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The ‘Mariachis’ are Ernestina Loría, María Consuelo Valverde, Adelía Loría, Julia Aguilar Rodríguez and Ortesia Guadamuz, all veterans of the losing side in the country’s 1948 civil war. In front is Marielos Varela Pacheco, secretary of the veterans’ association.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Women vets carried
their share of war

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

They all were eligible for their senior citizen gold card because they all participated in Costa Rica’s five-week civil war in 1948, some 55 years ago.

Some were soldiers. Some were nurses, and all fought on the losing side, the troops that backed the government against the upstart José Figueres.

Among the so called "ex-combatientes" were the women of 1948 who were among those honored by a luncheon of some 150 persons at Casa Presidential Thursday. They each had their own tale: of losing a husband or of fighting while being pregnant.

The winner, Figueres, went on to found the Partido Liberación Nacional, which is not the political party of President Abel Pacheco. That’s why the honorees Thursday were mainly from the government side.

Figueres brought a strong socialist tone to the government that followed the war. He also abolished the army, which is why there are so few Costa Rica war vets.

The losing side is called the "mariachis," because so many of the leaders went into exile to Mexico, including former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia, who was a principal figure in the defeated government of President Teodoro Picado.

From discussions Thursday with the women of 1948, the fact became clear that most had few political views and became involved on the side of the government because family members were or because their situation dictated it. As a result many lost their homes and most did not receive pensions.

The main goal of the group is to construct a location in the San José area for their family members and the Asociación de Ex-combatientes de 1948. Plans are in the works.

GOP to remember
presidents with bash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Republicans Abroad of Costa Rica is having a picnic in honor of U.S. Presidents Day. Although the U.S. holiday is Feb. 17, the picnic will be on Saturday, Feb. 22.

The barbecue at the Bello Horizonte Country Club is in part to celebrate the holiday and also to spur on membership for the upcoming year. Everyone is invited regardless of political persuasion or nationality, Frances Givens said. She is president of Republicans Abroad.

The food will be barbecued and pies stuffed with apples for the American holiday.  The country club’s  pool, tennis courts and other facilities will be in use by those who attend, Ms. Givens said. 

Tickets for the party cost 4,000 colons ($10.53) for Republican abroad members and 4,500 colons ($11.84) for nonmembers.

Broadcast system
gets new foundation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The struggling Sistema Nacional de Radio y Television Cultural got a big boost Thursday when the Asemblea Nacional acted to create a legal framework for the organization.

The so-called SINART is best known for its cultural and folkloric presentations on Channel 13, but also operates Radio Nacional. The legislative action approves a law that will allow the system to be incorporated as a public company.

The law approved on second reading in the assembly provides that SINART will get 10 percent of what government agencies and independent institutions spend on television and publicity. The system will be prohibited from transmitting political propaganda except that of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones urging people to vote and any political material contained in news broadcasts.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The joys of living alone

Recently I was in Mora Books (my home away from home), and I came across a book by Lynn Underwood entitled "A Woman Alone Can Be Contented." I leafed through it briefly but decided not to buy it because it seemed like it was aimed at making an unfortunate situation bearable. It was published in 1997. 

I have been living alone for a long, long time (by my definition, living alone means living without a family or a significant other). In the past decade or so, more and more people have taken to living alone.  Some by choice, others by circumstances. A good number of these people are women, and a good number of my friends are women living alone in Costa Rica. I decided to ask them how they felt about living alone here.

One of the first things people who do not live alone ask about is loneliness. Usually women who live alone have a variety of interests, whether it is reading, studying a language (it is a good idea for a woman alone here to become competent in Spanish), cooking, or playing at something. A positive addiction is an asset if you live alone. Living alone means you can pursue any of these activities to your hearts content. There are dozens of clubs here that one can join, and I have found it easier to meet people in Costa Rica than anywhere I have lived in the United States.

Anyone who moves to another country is prepared for being lonely sometime, and I learned a long time ago that I would much rather be lonely alone than with someone. I am free to do something about it. And, as Margaret says "If I’m lonely, I can always go to the phone and invite some folks to lunch."

Many of the joys of living alone come under the heading of freedom, like creating one’s own routines or de-creating them at your own whim (as Sandy says). Eating whatever, whenever and wherever you like. (Living alone means never having to set the table.) Or getting up in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep and thumping about making a cup of tea (or cocoa) without worrying you might wake someone or having to say, "Would you like something, too?" These are just some of the things that are a part of the freedom one has when living alone. 

For some of us, living alone brings a new sense of competence when you discover you can do the things that were formerly done by the man of the house, like hanging a shelf or installing a towel rack.

It is easier for a foreign woman to live alone in Costa Rica than it is for a Tica. She is not held to the customs of the country, and often she is excused as a crazy Gringa. It is also easier to live in the city. In a small community people are far more traditional and are distressed about and sorry for a woman all-alone. Ticos seem always to be in the company of others. A woman without a husband or children is not seen as normal. By the same token, since Costa Ricans are caring and tend to be kind to older women, they look after you. That means they see you! 

I used to be invisible in the States. I went out today and a gentleman gave me his seat on a crowded bus and when I got off, there was another gentleman standing there with his hand out to help me. I have no problem going to a restaurant alone. I have never been seated next to the kitchen or felt ignored by the waiter or waitress.

Although break-ins and robberies are not uncommon here (as I well know, having had my computer stolen), generally, we women don’t feel unsafe.  Some have guards on the premises, others have good neighbors, and others have dogs. I am not sure having a dog qualifies one as living alone.  You are not totally in charge. But you are still in charge of the remote control.  And being in control of that, the other day I was surfing the channels and came upon an interview in progress with Barbara Feldon, formerly Agent 99 of Get Smart.  She has just written a book entitled, "Living Alone and Loving It."  That’s more like it, Barbara. 

I wish to thank my friends, Sandy, Margaret, Ruth and Lillian for their contributions to this column. I have not given them much credit, but I certainly have used their ideas.

More Jo Stuart HERE!

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Disabled charity brings happiness to the needy
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

“I live my dream,” Roberta Felix, founder of Fundación Roberta Felix, said about the work her organization has been able to accomplish for the disabled children of the Quepos area.

Recent efforts have helped her organization make tangible gains for the disabled children’s community. In a phone interview, Ms. Felix sounded overjoyed talking about a new project the citizens of the Quepos area are undertaking. 

“We are going to build a home for a woman and her disabled children in order to remove them from an abusive situation,” Ms. Felix said. “The woman and her children suffered all the abuse one could imagine, and the foundation has formed an army of workers to build the new home for them.”

This weekend work begins on a five-meter by five-meter house which will bring temporary shelter to the family in despair, Ms. Felix said. The support is coming from many areas of the community in the form of manpower and resources, Ms. Felix added, and said she was amazed at all of the assistance received in this project and how rapidly it progressed.

The charitable work does not end there, Ms. Felix said. Everyday plans seem to come together and another part of the foundation’s efforts come true, she added.

The main project of the children’s charity is to bring big city care to small town Quepos. She said she is going to be meeting with President Abel Pacheco to jumpstart the construction of a rehabilitation center in the Quepos area, where the near 150 disabled children, suffering from mental and physical ailments, can find quality service.

Ms. Felix said she is currently conducting a census to identify all of the cases of disabled children in the canton of Aguirre, which comprises Quepos and Manuel Antonio.

The work to find the children brings her to the smallest villages and least developed parts of Costa Rica, she said. She described instances of children suffering serious neglect, hidden in back rooms and unable to secure help. Ms. Felix said the center can alleviate the problems, because families that previously could not cope will now have a place to turn locally.

Aside from the rehabilitation center Ms. Felix said the foundation is arranging dental care and eduaction programs for the children.

In the phone interview  Ms. Felix said the foundation seems to be accomplishing its work with the hand of providence.

“I heard a voice. I came here [to Costa Rica] to help kids,” she said, and now she is overwhelmed with the amount of willing help coming from the community, she said.

Ms. Felix said that one of the issues the community is facing is the disparity between the rich hills of Manuel Antonio and the slums surrounding Quepos. The community that is better off needs to help the less privileged neighbors, she said.

“I am not shy to knock on doors and ask for money or pull resources for the projects,” Ms. Felix said, “And for the most part when I explain the cause people are always willing to help.”

She said she solicits from corporations, local businesses and individuals and rarely is refused.

Ms. Felix has been touring many media outlets across Costa Rica including national radio to spread the word of her cause. She is also meeting with politicians to help put plans into action.

“To make the lives of handicap children better that’s our job,” Ms. Felix said.

Roberta Felix is founder of Fundación Roberta Felix. She is also the owner of Hotel California in Manuel Antonio.

For more information or to contribute to the Fundación Roberta Felix conact 777-1234 or visit the website at www.felixfundacion.org.

Music and arts festival planned to aid charity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The local businesses and organizations of the Quepos area are sponsoring a festival that will bring music and arts to the area in support of the disabled children there. The event is called the Festival de Buenos Vecinos.

On Feb. 22 a jazz festival is planned at Rancho Alegre in Damas near Quepos. Tickets are $15 and most of the proceeds are going to help the Fundacion Roberta Felix, which helps local disabled children. From 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. four performances from four groups will be held.

From Feb. 23 to 25 art exhibits, cooking contests, traditional dancing and theater will be held at the Hotel Karahe and Hotel California in Manuel Antonio. Much of the proceeds participating businesses generate will go toward the charity to help children.

For more information or to contribute to the Fundación Roberta Felix conact 777-1234 or visit the website at www.felixfundacion.org.

Trial starts in torture of U.S. citizen and murder of companion
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man and woman accused in the murder of a young Dominican woman are standing trial today and Feb. 14. The violence occurred in the home of an American who was beaten during the incident.

Eldridge Suggs, the man who was beaten, told police at the time of the murder that he was out playing golf and when he returned home he was surprised by intruders. He was handcuffed, tied up and tortured.

After the attack police discovered the body of Marîa Magdalena, the then-26-year-old companion of Suggs. The Dominican was found in the sauna of Suggs’ home in Los Arcos in San Antonio de Belén in Heredia.

Ms. Magdalena was found with knife wounds and bruises on her body.

Police found that the suspects knew each other because they lived in the same neighborhood in Guadalupe. One is a woman who wanted revenge because of the termination of a relationship with Suggs about a month before the incident, police claimed. She and two other male conspirators decided to rob Suggs, according to the court case. One of the males was a minor. The man was 

identified by his surname Barboza. The woman is named Valerín.

Investigators alleged that the trio used keys to the dwelling the woman had retained and entered the dwelling intent on stealing items and perhaps confronting Suggs. But he had left about 8:30 a.m. to play golf at the nearby Cariari course. Instead, the trio surprised Ms. Magdalena, who confronted them and began to resist, investigators claim, adding that it was then that the younger male stabbed her fatally.

Ms. Magdalena was put in the sauna and the intruders waited for Suggs. He returned about noon and was surprised by two men. They were wearing ski masks. The woman apparently remained hidden from Suggs.

The two men proceeded to torture Suggs for more than three hours, trying to force him to tell them where he had hidden money. Finally they handcuffed him, tied him up and dumped him in the closet of the master bedroom.

Authorities only released the surnames of the man and woman on trial for the crimes which occurred March 27, 2002. The two are the adults involved in the case and are being tried in the courthouse in Heredia.

Lost plane was carrying
Colombian minister

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Officials said an airplane carrying the country's minister of social welfare, Juan Luis Londono, has disappeared over the Andean Mountains. 

Four other people were aboard the plane, which failed to land at its intended destination in the Andean city of Popayan in the southwestern part of the country. 

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the small plane shortly after it took off Thursday from the central region city of Girardot. Officials reported no bad weather conditions at the time. 

Rescue crews began searching for the plane after it was reported missing. The news service reports Londono was traveling with two of his assistants, and that the other two people aboard were the pilot and his assistant. 

News sources quote that an official said authorities have not ruled out the possibility leftist rebels attacked the plane with a surface to air missile, although the official said that scenario seems unlikely. 

For the past 39 years, the country has been mired in a civil war involving two leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and the government. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade alone.

A state of emergency has been extended for 90 days in an effort to crack down on armed insurgents after nearly four decades of civil war. 

The extension allows security forces to continue to check documents, restrict movements and impose curfews in parts of the country under military control.

President Alvaro Uribe originally imposed the emergency order in August — days after rebels staged deadly mortar attacks here during his inauguration.

The order was extended in November. Law prohibits any further extensions, although Uribe reportedly wants to pass legislation making the order permanent.

Suicide tries on rise
at terrorist prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — There has been yet another suicide attempt by one of the terrorist detainees held at the U.S. Navy Base here. U.S. military officials are concerned by the sudden rise in efforts by prisoners to kill themselves.

This is the fifth suicide attempt by a detainee in just the past three weeks, and the 15th since the prison opened a little over a year ago.

Military officials are providing few details. But a Pentagon spokeswoman admits authorities at the high-security prison are concerned.

The spokeswoman will not say if the Pentagon believes the surge in suicide bids is an organized effort by the detainees to embarrass their American captors.

But she said there are, what she terms, "a lot of challenges" here. She said prison officials are monitoring the situation closely. She said both medical and security teams are stepping up their efforts to prevent further suicide attempts, as well as other actions by detainees to harm themselves intentionally.

The latest wave of attempted suicides began in mid-January when a prisoner was found hanging in his cell and was cut down by guards. That case was deemed the most serious yet by authorities, who report the detainee in question remains hospitalized in a serious-but-stable condition. 

There are about 625 detainees held here. They are believed to come from more than 40 countries. Most were apprehended in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led military effort to destroy the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Various human rights organizations have complained about the detainees' isolation as well as the uncertainty about their future.

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. defense secretary, said this week the United States is in no rush to bring the detainees to trial. Instead he said the main goal is interrogating the prisoners to get any information the men may have about terrorist activities.

Rumsfeld and others said the detainees are being treated humanely and in accordance with international conventions. They have rejected all charges that the men are tortured. 

Brazilian airlines join
and control market

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — The two largest airlines here have announced plans to merge into a company. The new company would control 70 percent of the country's aviation market. 

Viacao Aerea Rio-Grandense and TAM Linhas Aereas said Thursday the new company will have a combined fleet of 218 aircraft. Details of the merger were not disclosed. 

Brazil has been struggling with a decline in travel and a steep drop in the value of the country's currency, the real. 

U.S. told to delay
deaths of Mexicans

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

THE HAGUE, Holland — The World Court has ordered the United States to temporarily stay the execution of three Mexican citizens on death row in Texas and Oklahoma. 

The World Court, officially known as the International Court of Justice at the Hague, issued the unanimous decision Wednesday. The United States usually does not abide with the court decisions.

Last month, Mexico took Washington to the World Court arguing that 51 of its citizens on death row in the United States were not given their legal right to help from the Mexican government. 

The court said of the 51 Mexican nationals, three men, Cesar Fierro, Roberto Ramos, and Osvaldo Torres Aguilera, convicted on separate murder charges are at "imminent risk" of execution. 

Wednesday's ruling said The United States must take all necessary measures to ensure the men are not executed while Mexico's claims are investigated.

U.S. agency backs
material sale to Mexico

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U. S. Export-Import Bank has approved three comprehensive medium-term insurance policies to support the sale of $7 million in U.S. construction and transportation equipment to Jamaica, Mexico and Russia, according to a release Wednesday by the Bank.

Carnival gets police
to protect visitors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Puntarenas Carnival is in full swing until Feb. 16, and the Fuerza Pública has turned out 600 officers to protect visitors.

The carnival takes place in the center of the Pacific port town and along the Paseo de los Turistas. The event is a magnet for Costa Ricans but also for those who would commit crimes.

The Ministerio Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública will also use the services of the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea and Servicio de Nacional de Guardacostas. In addition to these special police, air patrols and coast guard, immigration officers are expected to conduct sweeps looking for illegal residents.

The police agencies urged residents and tourists to carry proof of their legal status if they attend the carnival.

Robbery suspects
grabbed in raids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents conducted three raids in Los Cudros de Guadalupe Thursday and arrested three men they believe made up a gang that preyed on small shops.

The men were much sought after because of the way they behaved after robbing the stores: They would make young female employees or customers take off their clothes and submit to fondling or worse at gunpoint.

The robberies took place in Guadalupe, Moravia, San Pedro and Coronado and their targets involved small stores, supermarkets, beauty parlors and offices of veterinarians, said agents.

The Judicial Investigating Organization coordinated the raids that involved police from several agencies.

The investigation started after the first robbery in December in Santo Domingo de Heredia when a gang held up a paint store. The suspects were identified by these last names and ages: Badilla, 19, Porras, 20, and Sánchez, 22.

List expanded with
those linked to drugs

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wednesday, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control added 59 businesses and 78 individuals linked to Colombia's Cali drug cartel to its list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers, according to a release Thursday by the Treasury Department.

The office has determined that the 137 new traffickers are acting as fronts for the Cali cartel in Colombia and Spain, and are subject to economic sanctions.
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Investor gets a break with donation from sympathetic dog lover
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Margaret Cowell, an investor with Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, was fighting hard to stay afloat. She was all set to leave Costa Rica for England.

She was tired of waiting for Villalobos’ return, and she had all but given up hope on the continuation of her dream retirement in paradise. She was due to leave sometime this month. 

But she has been handed a last-minute reprieve, at least for now.

Ms. Cowell’s story was published in A.M. Costa Rica in early January. She told of how she might have to put her three dogs and cat to sleep.

An A.M. Costa Rica reader, who lives in Atlanta, Ga., contacted Ms. Cowell to offer his help after reading the story. He sent her $500.

"He’s been very kind. He didn’t have to do this," said Ms. Cowell of the man’s gift. Ms. Cowell said that the man is an elderly gentleman and an animal lover. He has 15 dogs, she said.

This money has enabled Ms. Cowell to remain in Costa Rica at least until the end of February. She said it covered this month's rent, thus allowing her more time to find homes for her pets.

Ms. Cowell did not want to name the man without his permission. Despite attempts to contact him, A.M. Costa Rica has been unable to speak with to the man.

As to her future, Ms. Cowell said simply, "I’m still here."

But she has resigned herself to the fact that she will eventually have to leave. "It will come to an end," she said, "unless our money miraculously re-appears."

One of her three dogs has successfully found a new home. A lady from the U.S. Embassy has adopted the dog, said Ms. Cowell.

As for the remaining two dogs and cat, Ms. Cowell says her efforts to find them good homes continue.

She is being choosy about where her pets end up, though, she said. "I can just imagine Scrap [the cat] locked in a flat. The thing I see is a little kiddy leaving the door or window open and [then] little pussy under the traffic," she said.

Villalobos disappeared Oct. 14 and has not been seen since. He is regarded as a fugitive by the authorities. 

Despite Villalobos’ elongated absence, Ms. Cowell still believes in him. She said that Villalobos is "just waiting for the right time" to return.

Ms. Cowell said she would prefer her less extravagant life here in Costa Rica with no money than the cold and wet one waiting for her in England.

Ms. Cowell makes it clear that she does not want to leave Costa Rica or lose her dogs. But, she says, she has to go.

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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