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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 10, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 28
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Central Valley and downtown as seen from the southwest on a sunny Sunday
Winds drive two fires in hills south of Cartago
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Strong winds and hot weather are dogging firefighters as they battle two outbreaks in the hills south of Cartago.

The blazes have been feeding on undergrowth since the middle of last week, and in one case firefighters reported flames nearly 40 feet high.

One fire started Wednesday in Cañón del Guarco, Province of Cartago, and has burned toward Copey de Dota, incinerating all in its path, according to the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública.

The second fire began either Wednesday or Thursday in the vicinity of San Pedro de Tarrazú.

In each case, the flames are consuming or putting to flight great numbers of birds and animals in the mountainous regions.

Both areas are known for their coffee production, and some harvests have been delayed while residents lend a hand to firefighters. Help is coming from the cantons of Dota, Tarrazú and León Cortés, said officials.

At least four members of the Fuerza Pública sustained injuries in fighting the fire. One suffered an injury from a stake in the leg, another cut his hand and others suffered from smoke inhalation, officials said.

The weather will continue dry with blue 

skies, moderate winds and moderate temperatures, according to the forecast for Monday. 

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that a big chunk of dry air was over the Caribbean at a high altitude dominating the nation’s weather.  The conditions bode ill for those fighting the fire, but the vacation spots along the Pacific beaches will continue to be dry and hot with few clouds.

Officials are not sure what started the fires, but they think hunters might have been the cause of one blaze. They also suspect that another was started maliciously.

The strategy in countering the fires may include creating a firebreak or a backfire to limit the spread of the flames, said officials.

Much of the hilly area is not populated by tall trees but by waist- and shoulder-high underbrush. The distance from water lines is a problem for firefighters. The bulk of the fight is being carried out with shovels and sticks. 

The dry season, which continues until at least the beginning of April makes vegetation vulnerable to fire. At the same time, the harvest of sugar cane is beginning in the valleys of Costa Rica. Traditionally, cane farmers fire their fields before cutting the tall canes in order to removed underbrush, weeds and critters. Smoke from such fires could be seen at several points in the Central Valley Sunday. Sometimes the blazes get out of control.

Investors have setback and lawyer gets guard
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investors trying to bring criminal and civil action against Costa Rican officials over the Villalobos situation have suffered a setback when a bank rejected their account.

And a leader of the organization disclosed Sunday that the lawyer they want to hire has retained a 24-hour bodyguard.

Meanwhile, another group is urging international mediation because of the "negligence and mishandling of the case and over 20 years of supervision of Villalobos' operations."

Henk Guichelaar of Longview, Texas, disclosed in a Friday e-mail to investors that Banca Promerica told the United & Concerned Citizens of Costa Rica that the institution was rejecting its application for an account.

The group is trying to raise $100,000 to pay for the initial stages of a legal action by lawyer José Miguel Villalobos. Organization members hoped that those who wanted to contribute could have sent funds directly to the account. 

Meanwhile, J. Duke Moseley, another member of the organization, said that the lawyer needs

a 24-hour armed escort because "there are ‘interests’ that don’t want him to take the case and we are thinking that maybe they want to intimidate him to back off." Moseley said that threats have been received.

The lawyer is not related to Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho who operated a high interest borrowing business at Mall San Pedro until he closed it down Oct. 14. Investigators had raided the location July 4, and Villalobos said he feared a second raid.

Villalobos, the financier, is an international fugitive, and many of the 6,300 investors are trying to recoup the estimated $1 billion of theirs that he had on his books when he closed. Many investors blame the government for shutting down the operation that paid up to 3 percent a month.

Some believe that banking interests were behind the government raid that kicked off the investigation. The action by Banca Promerica seems to play to those fears.

The idea of international arbitration comes from Jack Caine and Charles Bergeron of a group called the Class Action Center. They said in an e-mail to investors that they soon would have a Web site prepared to give particulars on their strategy.

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Second 'Patriot Act' in works by U.S. administration
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush Administration is preparing a bold, comprehensive sequel to the USA Patriot Act passed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. The new measure would give the government broad, sweeping new powers to increase domestic intelligence-gathering, surveillance and law enforcement prerogatives and simultaneously decrease judicial review and public access to information, according to an investigative organization here.

The Center for Public Integrity said it has obtained a draft, dated Jan. 9 of this previously undisclosed legislation and is making it available in full text on its Web site. The bill, drafted by the staff of Attorney General John Ashcroft and entitled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, has not been officially released by the Department of Justice, although rumors of its development have circulated around the Capitol for the last few months under the name of "the Patriot Act II" in legislative parlance.

David Cole, Georgetown University law professor and author of "Terrorism and the Constitution," reviewed the draft legislation at the request of the center and said that the legislation "raises a lot of serious concerns. It’s troubling that they have gotten this far along and they’ve been telling people there is nothing in the works." 

This proposed law, he added, "would radically expand law enforcement and intelligence gathering authorities, reduce or eliminate judicial oversight over surveillance, authorize secret arrests, create a DNA database based on unchecked executive ‘suspicion,’ create new death penalties, and even seek to take American citizenship away from persons who belong to or support disfavored political groups." 

The USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26, 2001, gave law enforcement officials broader authority to conduct electronic surveillance and wiretaps, and gives the president 

the authority, when the nation is under attack, to
confiscate any property within U.S. jurisdiction of anyone believed to be engaging in such attacks. The measure also tightened oversight of financial activities to prevent money laundering and diminish bank secrecy in an effort to disrupt terrorist finances.

México tightens
border with U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The government here says it is increasing security along its borders and at oil installations to guard against possible terrorist attacks in the event of a U.S.-led war on Iraq. 

The move comes as a U.S. attack on Iraq seems more and more likely.

In an interview Sunday with the state news agency, Rafael Macedo, attorney general, said the higher security is a "natural defense mechanism" given that a conflict with Iraq can create impacts around the world. 

The government has already increased security along its 3,200-kilometer northern border with the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. 

The U.S.-Mexican border is the busiest one between any two nations in the world. Some 1.5 million Mexicans are arrested each year trying to smuggle drugs or illegally immigrate to the United States. 

The country is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and supports giving the U.N. arms inspectors more time to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

Mexico is one of the world's top oil producers and one of the leading oil exporters to the United States. 

Multiple rape suspect named in murder of girl, 7
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Authorities have a suspect in the murder of a 7-year-old girl in San Juan de Tres Rios.

He is a man who also is a suspect in three violent rapes of women in the area, said investigators. He was identified by the last name of Mendieta, and his age is 23 years, said investigators. The rape victims range in age from 16 to 30, and the crimes started in October, agents said. The victims were going to see the man in a police lineup.

The murder of the little girl enraged the country, and the newspaper Diario Extra posted a 500,000-colon reward for information leading to an arrest. That’s about $1,300. The reward still is in place awaiting proof that the suspect did commit the crime, said the newspaper in its 

Saturday edition. So far he is not formally connected with the murder. DNA tests and other scientific studies are expected to be conducted.

According to a police description, the suspect is a loner who sometimes wanders the coffee plantations of the area. The three women who were raped said the crime happened while they were walking alone. Police suspect that is what happened to the girl, Ema Elizabeth Góngora Jaime.

The girl wandered away from her parents the morning of Jan. 29 while the family was in a coffee plantation picking the crop. Searchers found her body some eight hours later in the nearby finca Montealegre.

The area is in the La Unión canton of Cartago Province.

More jail time ordered
for kidnap suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge has ordered two months more of pretrial detention for a man accused of snatching a boy, 3, near his home last June 4. The boy’s body turned up in a reservoir in Santa Ana seven days later.

The man is identified by his last names of Agüero Cascaste, and he has been in jail since the crime.

The boy, Osvaldo Madrigal Obando, was the son of a drug agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The kidnapping took place in the Urbanización La Paz in San Miguel de Higuito de Desamparados. 

The motive for the crime still is unclear, and the investigation continues. The accused was a sometimes watchman in the neighborhood. Investigators said he took the child to a taxi and went with the boy to Pavas where the boy was delivered to persons still unidentified.

The driver of the car was arrested but later allowed to post bail. The case gained widespead publicity because of the employment of the boy’s father and because he was the second child to be kidnapped in Desamparados within a span of several months.

Officials have not clarified the motive, and some have said that the accused might not have been involved at all.

Immigration grabs more
in city and at carnival

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police picked up  36 more foreigners, including an American woman, over the weekend in San José and at the Puntarenas carnival.

In a sweep Friday, immigration police and Fuerza Pública officers said they checked papers in San José nightspots and parks. They detained 13 Nicaraguans and three Colombians who did not have their papers in order, they said.

Saturday, the immigration police picked up 20 more persons who did not have a legal right to be in the country, said a release from the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública. Among these encountered at the carnival was a woman from the United States, they said.

Police had warned that they would be checking documents at the Puntarenas carnival that ends Feb. 16.

Police shoot suspect
in appliance thefts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Fuerza Pública officers raided a hideout of young burglars near Guápiles and shot one of the suspects in the knee when he came at an officer, they said.

The wounded man was Randall Hernández Solano,18, said police. He was shot by officer Wilberth Muñoz and later hospitalized. The policemen found that three youngsters had stockpiled stolen household appliances in an abandoned dwelling, said officials. The other two were arrested.

Woman in car shot
by possible bandits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 27-year-old woman, traveling in a car with her husband, suffered a bullet wound to the head about 7 p.m. Saturday in the barrio of Sagrada Familia, according to police. 

The woman, Alison Madrigal, was hit when occupants of another car fired on the vehicle in which she was riding. Police said that robbery was the apparent motive. Her condition was not known Sunday night.

Meanwhile, about 1 p.m. Sunday in Alajuelita the occupants of a car and the rider of a motorcycle shot it out while traveling near a bus terminal there, and Ernesto Salazar Cano took a bullet in the knee, said police.

Judge lets two go

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police were unhappy Thursday night when judges let go two of three suspects who were found near Rincón Poblano in Tibás with 45 different keys for popular makes of automobiles.

Police suspected that the trio were trying to steal cars, but a judge in the Segundo Circuito Judicial did not agree and set free two of the three, according to officials.

How’s that economy?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Web developer with more than nine years experience sent a number of e-mails to potential employers Friday.

Among the recipients was A.M. Costa Rica. The man said he was working at a U.S. firm that has not paid him for six weeks and that he was seeking a new job.

But for people who did not have a job open for someone with his qualifications, the man included a Pay Pal link so recipients could make a donation "to help me feed my children."

Brazil awarded money
to aid flood victims

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing $50,000 to Brazil to help victims of recent flooding in that country.

In a release, the agency said the funds will be used for the local purchase of relief supplies for flood victims in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Bush condemns 
Bogotá bombing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has condemned the bombing of a nightclub in Colombia's capital, Bogotá that killed at least 31 people and wounded about 150, calling it "a barbaric act of terrorism."

In a statement Saturday, Bush expressed condolences to families and friends of the victims and wished a quick recovery to those wounded. He offered assistance to the Colombian government in finding those responsible for the car bomb blast. 

Colin Powell, secretary of state, also offered his condolences in a telephone call to Carolina Barco, the Colombian foreign minister. 

Francisco Santos, Colombia's vice president, said Saturday he has no doubt that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia carried out the terrorist attack.

Officials say the blast that ripped through the exclusive "El Nogal" club came from a car packed with about 200 kilograms of explosives. The attack on the club, which is popular with politicians and business people, came amid increased attacks in urban areas by Colombia's leftist rebels. 

Colombia's four-decade-long civil war pits leftist guerrillas against the government and right-wing paramilitaries. Colombian officials say suspected leftist rebels have bombed a key pipeline in a troubled northern province. 

Authorities said Thursday the attack in Arauca occurred late Wednesday. Workers with the Cano Limon pipeline say the explosion caused oil to rush out, causing unknown environmental damage. 

Seventy U.S. Special Forces are in Arauca to help train Colombian forces in protecting the pipeline, which is operated by the U.S-based Occidental Petroleum. 

Authorities say leftist rebels attacked the pipeline in the lawless province 170 times in 2001.

Aleman told to remain
under house arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — A judge has ordered former President Arnoldo Aleman to remain under house arrest despite a regional court's order for his release.

The ruling goes against the Central America Court of Justice, which decided last month that Aleman enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Aleman has been under house arrest since December on charges of fraud and money laundering.

But, Judge Juana Mendez ruled late Friday that the regional court's decision couldn’t be enforced because it goes against the national constitution.

In December, lawmakers in the National Assembly voted to strip Aleman's protection as a member of the Central American Parliament.

Aleman faces charges of misusing more than $1 million in a deal involving the state-run television station. He denies the allegations against him.

Boy dies at home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 2-year old boy, Juan Carlos Espinoza Taleno, died Saturday in his home in La Isla de Moravia. The body showed bruises on the right side, although investigators are unsure if the bruises developed before the boy died or as a result of his death, estimated to be some four hours before police were notified by his mother Clarisa Espinoza Taleno.

Pavas fiscalia moves

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pavas fiscalia or prosecutor’s office has moved to a spot in Rohrmoser 100 meters east and 100 meters north of the U.S. Embassy, court officials said Friday. 

Cuba wants Coast Gaurd ‘defectors’ returned

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Four members of the Cuban Coast Guard, who defected to the United States after driving their patrol boat to a resort here, are wanted back by the Cuban government. 

Police officials in Key West said the men dressed in camouflage Coast Guard uniforms surrendered to a police officer early Friday. Officials said the men were taken to a local jail, and will be handed over to U.S. immigration officials. 

Police said they confiscated two machine guns and a handgun from the defectors. The U.S. Coast Guard impounded the Cubans' boat, which had been docked at a Hyatt resort. 

U.S. immigration law often allows Cuban refugees who are captured on land to remain in the country. Cubans intercepted at sea are usually returned to their home country. 

Group calls on Venezuela 
to charge suspected Nazi

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JERUSALEM, Israel — A Nazi-hunting organization has called on Venezuela to take legal action against an Estonian accused of war crimes during World War II. 

The Simon Wiesenthal Center here says Venezuela should press charges against Harry Mannil or expel him. Mannil, now a Venezuelan citizen and businessman, was a member of a police unit in Nazi-occupied Estonia during the war. 

Mannil was in Costa Rica earlier this week when authorities there told him he must leave and not return, citing his Nazi involvement. 

Mannil has not commented, but reports say that he has said in the past that he never took part in war crimes against Estonian Jews.

Ecuador receives backing
for $500m loan

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador —Backing has been won from the International Monetary Fund for a stand-by loan worth $500 million here.

Fund officials said Friday they approved the country's letter of intent for its economic plan. The proposal must now be approved by the fund board, which is scheduled to meet next month.

The deal would give the country $200 million in direct loans from the fund. The country would also have access to an additional $300 million from other lending agencies. 

Fund officials also praised President Lucio Gutierrez for taking important measures to support economic reforms.

Carter proclaims progress
in Venezuela crisis

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says the Venezuelan president and his opponents are making progress to end a nationwide crisis and a crippling strike. 

Carter, who has been negotiating a resolution to the conflict, said Friday that the two sides are committed to a political agreement to end their differences. 

He said Venezuela's constitution allows for a recall referendum or a constitutional amendment to allow for early elections. 

Opponents of President Hugo Chavez have started collecting signatures for initiatives aimed at cutting short his term in office. 

Carter has also been working with the head of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, in the resolution process.

Colombian minister’s
plane still missing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Rescue workers in the mountains are continuing the search for a small plane that was lost while carrying a government minister.

More than 100 rescue workers and 18 helicopters were sent out early Saturday, to search for Juan Luis Londono, minister of social welfare. 

The plane carrying Londono and four others broke off contact with air traffic controllers shortly after take-off on Thursday.

Workers have not reported finding any trace of the plane. But officials admitted for the first time Saturday they believe the plane was involved in a crash. 

Workers are focusing the search near the village of Cajamarca, in a mountainous region west of here.

The search for the plane has been postponed several times because of fog, bad weather, and the presence of leftist guerrilla soldiers in the area.

On Friday one rescue helicopter was shot by presumed guerrillas, but its crew managed to land safely.

Government soldiers are being sent to the region to ensure the safety of rescue crews.

There is no evidence that guerrillas were involved with the missing plane.
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Weaker El Niño system seems to be on the way out
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The El Niño weather system should be weakening over the next few months, according to a report last week, but the world will still feel some impact in coming months.

The report came from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which has sophisticated weather sensing devices all over the world and in space.

El Niño is a weather system that causes a warming of Pacific Ocean waters. The system produces a variety of abnormalities in temperature and precipitation patterns in various parts of the globe. In Costa Rica, the system generally reduces rainfall, sometimes to critical levels.

"The 2002-2003 El Niño has had less punch than its 1982-83 and 1997-98 predecessors," said Jim Laver, director of the administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

El Niño was kind to some parts of the United States over the last few months, bringing badly needed 

rain to areas suffering from months of drought, 
said the report. It's typical for El Niño to bring warmer, rainy weather to the southern United States during winter, and drier weather to much of Indonesia. 

Central America and Mexico generally experience dry conditions from El Niño, while on the west coast of South America, in contrast, wetter than normal conditions usually prevail.

"Those areas of the world usually affected by El Niño may continue to experience related impacts during the next two to three months," said the  Climate Prediction Center report.

The report said that recent Pacific Ocean temperature readings near the equator, together with statistical and model forecasts, indicate that El Niño will continue to weaken through April. Near-normal sea surface temperatures should return to the equatorial Pacific during May through October, according to the report.

The El Niño Homepage may be found at: http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/

Los Arcos murder suspects accept a plea bargain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man and a woman acccused of killing the companion of a U.S. citizen reached a plea bargain with prosecutors Friday.

They each received 27 years in prision, some 25 years for the murder and two years each for holding and torturing the North American. This is less than they could have received if the case continued in the courts.

The persons who admitted their guilt as part of the deal in the Heredia courts are a man, identified by the last name of Barboza, and a woman, identified as both Salazar and Valerín.

Eldridge Suggs, the man who was beaten and tortured, 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, beaten 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. The murder happened last March 27.

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. The woman 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, a minor, was not involved in the court action Friday even though he is the person investigators believe actually killed the woman with a golf club.

Investigators said that the trio used keys 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.

Ms. Magdalena’s body 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.

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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