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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 9, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 27
Jo Stuart
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Have you every heard of the 'windy season'?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This year the rainy season gave way to the windy season. Strong gusts of up to 30 mph have been beating on plants and rattling sheets of tin roofs.

For Costa Ricans, the windy, coupled with temperatures in the teens (that’s Celsius not Fahrenheit) the so-called summer is a lot like the Ice Age.

Although the days in the Central Valley are balmy, when night comes, residents hunker down because most homes are not wind tight and there is no provision for heating a typical home.

Sunday the low temperature recorded by the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional in San José was 16.1, which is 61 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind 

makes the apparent temperature lower.

For the last week little cloud cover helped surface temperatures escape when the sun went down. The up side is a full moon worthy of ballads. The downside is that a light jacket or sweater is needed for comfort.

Of course, Costa Ricans can see a real winter on CNN. Sunday it was the storm that closed down Interstate 80 in Wyoming. There is nothing like that here, even though some teeth might be chattering at night.

For those who cannot stand the chill and the wind, a $2 bus ride will take them to some of the world’s best beaches where the problem is staying cool. Puntarenas, Quepos and Golfito all posted highs of 33 and lows of 22 C Sunday. That’s a high of 91 and a low of 71 for those in the U.S.

Pre-Columbian stamps go on display at museum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans who lived here 1,000 or more years ago may not have left written records, but they left behind seals and what scientists call roller stamps.

These were personalized devices that frequently were used to apply markings to the body, according to a release from the Museos de Banco Central.

These seals or stamps were found all over the north Pacific area and in the central region, frequently as funeral offerings in graves. The period of their greatest use, according to researchers, is from 100 B.C. to 800 A.D., said the museum. Such devices are typical in other pre-Columbian cultures, too, as well as earlier Middle Eastern cultures.

These devices are little known and less studied, said the museum but they are of great importance for their cultural and esthetic value. The seals and roller stamps come in difference sizes and can be cylindrical or flat. The designs may be spirals, concentric figures, or representations of humans or animals.

Courtesy of the Museos del Banco Central

Although these devices might have created images that had a higher purpose, they basically were used to decorate the body, according to the museum. Scientists know this because there are many depictions of humans on ceramic pots in which their bodies bear the same designs as the seals.

The exhibit of these tiny precolombian printing devices began this month and will run for a year at the museum.

The museum is open from 9:30 to 4:30 Monday to Sunday and residents can get in for free on Wednesdays. The museum is below the Plaza de la Cultura in the center of the city. More information is available on the museum Web site: www.museosdelbancocentral.org

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Nearly a million kids
off to school today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the day that nearly a million Costa Rican children return to school after the annual vacation. More than 3,000 policemen are on duty to protect them, and President Abel Pacheco will lead the opening ceremony this morning at the Liceo del Este in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

In his weekly television speech Sunday Pacheco said that mediocre education is over and that despite budget limitations, youngsters should seek to excel. He also said that the protection afforded youngsters by police is no substitute to the vigilant role of fathers and mothers.

Students will not get a break again until April 5 when the week-long Semana Santa vacation takes place.

Police officials said they would give priority to those schools located in areas that are considered problematic. Police will be placing special emphasis on stopping the trade in drugs and the Policía de Control de Drogas will be part of the plan today.

Officials also will be on the alert for any victimization of children. They encouraged parents who work to find another adult to bring their children to school each day instead of letting them walk alone.

Many private schools also follow the Costa Rican public school calendar, although some with a high percentage of foreigners as students are on the North American calendar.

Murders and standoff
keep police busy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The murder of a university mathematics student early Saturday shocked police. Someone came into her home and beat her in the head with a hammer, officials said.

The killing was one of four weekend murders, including the death of a hotel owner in downtown San José Friday. That assailant took another merchant hostage but was gunned down by police after a two-hour standoff.

The dead student is Susan Bryan González, 18, who was living in Bataán de Limón with her husband, who found her dead in her bed about 3 a.m. Later Saturday the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested an 18-year-old man in Pacuare de Pérez Zeledón on the other side of the country. He was a worker on the property of the woman’s father-in-law. She was a student at Universidad Latina in Limón.

The hostage standoff in the downtown started when a man fatally stabbed Mario Cortés, the co-owner of the Hotel la Flora on Avenida 8 between calles 2 and 4.  The murderer later was identified as Lorenzo Gílberth Thompson Shang, about 30, of Panamá, a man with a lengthy police record.

Thompson fled from the hotel to a nearby shop where he put a knife to the throat of owner Manuel Rojas and dragged him into a bathroom where he resisted negotiation efforts by police for nearly two hours.

All this happened around midday about two blocks south of Parque Central.

Thompson ended up stabbing two police officers, but his hostage was freed when police gunned down the murderer.

Another murder took place in San Isidro about 9:25 p.m. Friday. Two men in a car beat to death Fabio Vargas Vargas, 55, with a pipe at the entrance to his home.

Sunday about 4 a.m. the body of a 24-year-old woman, Ana Gabriela Sanjur Gamboa, was found with a fatal bullet in her chest outside a bar.

Also early Sunday a 24-year-old Alajuela man Gerado González Porras died near his home when a group of men accosted him. The specifics of this murder were not available late Sunday.

Rodríguez gets boost

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Miguel Angle Rodríguez got another boost to his candidacy when México announced it would support him for secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The former president is the only announced candidate. México said that the fact that Rodríguez was from Central America represented an advantage.

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Man arrested here to face stock fraud charges in Las Vegas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A former U.S. promoter living here has to return to Las Vegas to face federal criminal stock fraud charges.

The man is Larry Alan Stockett, 57, according to officials here. Agents of the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) and the Judicial Investigating Organization took him into custody Friday not far from his home in the Los Arcos subdivision west of San José, according to a report by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Local officials said that Stockett was indicted in August by a federal grand jury sitting in Las Vegas. 

The case is in the hands of Tribunal de Juicio de San José and the extradition process is awaited, the report said. There was no word on how long Stockett was in Costa Rica.  However, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reported that Stockett made an appearance at an administrative hearing in the United States last March 20.

In April 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Stockett, whom it accused of being a "recidivist securities violator ...  with a lengthy disciplinary record" with both state and federal regulators since 1989, and alleged he defrauded penny stock investors out of $1.37 million, according to the Las Vegas Sun, a newspaper there.

Stockett owned Hightec, Inc. and several other companies, and the Securities and Exchange Commission claimed he disseminated flagrantly false and misleading financial statements about 

the companies through press releases, spam e-mails, infomercials and the Internet to induce investors to buy Hightec stock.

The Securities and Exchange Commission polices
the sales of securities in the United States, and civil complaints from the agency frequently become criminal charges.

The U.S. Cement Web site provides a glowing description of Stockett. The Web site says he invested the first paperless office and the first portable computer. It also said that he founded the first coast-to-coast fiber optic 

Larry Stockett
telephone network. U.S. Cement said it had a process to deliver the construction material in 12-ton bags instead of the traditional trucks.

While in Las Vegas, Stockett was associated with Andrew L. Pope, a convicted felon, who pleaded guilty Nov. 20, 2002, to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, wire fraud and commercial bribery and one count of securities fraud in a federal criminal indictment relating to the scheme, according to the SEC.

The SEC claimed that Pope was hyping Hightec Inc. stock in Internet e-mails even though the company technically no longer existed because the State of Delaware had pulled its incorporation certification. The firm had not filed financial reports since 1996, the SEC said.

Dominican baby with second head fails to survive surgery recovery
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — A baby with one of the world's rarest birth defects has died, hours after doctors removed the infant's second head. 

Hospital officials in Santo Domingo say 7-week-old Rebeca Martinez died Saturday after her blood refused to clot. The baby girl had stable vital signs after surgery late Friday, but doctors had warned there was still the risk of infection or bleeding. 

Rebeca was only the eighth documented case in the world of a baby having the head of an undeveloped twin attached to the top of its skull, 

and the first to have surgery to remove the growth.

A team of 18 doctors spent 11 hours operating on Rebeca to separate her from the second head, which threatened the girl's development. A U.S. - based charity that provides medical aid to children in developing countries paid $100,000 to finance the surgery.

The operation was prolonged because the extra tissue attached to Rebeca's head included arteries, which had to be cut extremely carefully, to avoid hemorrhage. Bone and skin from the undeveloped head were used to close the hole in the infant's skull left by the first phase of the operation.

Spanish judge seeks to bring Colombians to Europe for drug trial
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A Spanish judge has issued arrest warrants for 34 suspected members of a Colombian cocaine trafficking group. In charges filed Thursday, Judge Baltasar Garzon accused the group of trying to import tons of cocaine into Europe.

The charges are considered a first step to extraditing the suspects to Spain. Two of the 34 are already in Spanish custody.

Among those charged is paramilitary leader Carlos Castano, who has been negotiating with the Colombian government seeking amnesty for thousands of fighters, if he disbands the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a group defined by the United States as terrorist.

Judge Garzon rose to international prominence for his failed attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to stand trial for war crimes. 

Aristide loses control of some major Haitian cities
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Unrest is continuing here after police failed to retake control of a major northern city after several days of rioting and violence. At least 18 people, including several policemen, have died over the past four days in the worst political violence to strike Haiti in years.

Haiti's national police have reportedly withdrawn from the country's fourth largest city, Gonaives, after a failed attempt on Saturday to control anti-government rioters. Disturbances broke out on Thursday when rioters burned down the city's police and fire stations as well as several large businesses. Rioting has now spread to other cities, including St. Marc, about 70 kms. (42 miles) north of this capital. Unconfirmed reports say Haitian police have withdrawn from several other large towns in the region.

Protesters are calling on Haiti's President Jean Bertrand Aristide to step down immediately. A broad coalition of opposition politicians, business 

leaders and civil society groups say Aristide and his supporters are involved in human rights abuses, corruption and government mismanagement. Opposition leaders in Port-au-Prince have denounced the violence.

Aristide has rebutted the charges and says he will fill out the remaining two years of his term.

A spokesman for Haiti's government has characterized the violence acts as terrorism, but so far the government has not said how it will regain control of Gonaives, St. Marc or other towns where civil authority has disintegrated. Much of the violence in Gonaives is believed to be carried out by armed gangs, who are former supporters of Aristide but who now oppose his rule.

The roots of Haiti's current political crisis date to flawed legislative elections in 2000. The government and the opposition have been unable to agree on when or how to hold new elections resulting in political paralysis in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

Free trade talks for hemisphere again on rocks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUEBLO, México — Delegates at a gathering in Mexico have failed to reach agreement on a framework to create the largest free trade zone in the world, but say they will continue negotiating. 

Deputy ministers from 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere ended four days of talks here Friday, without any agreements because of an impasse over agricultural subsidies. Their goal is to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas stretching from Alaska to Argentina, by January 2005. 

The Mercosur countries, led by Brazil and Argentina, accused the United States and its allies 

of not being flexible enough on farm issues. But the U.S.-led block of 14 countries accused Mercosur of being too ambitious in its stand on agriculture. 

Mercosur countries have been asking for an end to all farm subsidies and a phase-out of tariffs on all products. At this meeting, it agreed to allow tariff or quota protections for about 10 percent of goods. 

World Trade Organization talks collapsed in Cancun last September over agricultural issues. They remain stalled. 

Argentina's negotiator at the free trade meeting, Martin Redrado, said this session was not like Cancun, because talks will continue in March.

Argentina told that it must continue cutting debt
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The world's richest industrialized nations have sent a tough message to Argentina, telling the South American nation to stay the course with its debt reduction plan. 

Argentina has sought a 75 percent reduction in its $80 billion debt owed to private sector creditors. 

After their two-day meeting here the Group of Seven nations urged Argentina to push ahead with its International Monetary Fund sanctioned program and "engage constructively" with its creditors. 

The G7 countries noted that at the present time Argentina's economy is improving, its inflation is low and it has favorable tax revenues.

Jo Stuart
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