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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 29
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Soccer match turns
weekday into holiday

Wednesday was like a national holiday in Costa Rica as soccer football fans geared up for the evening match with México. 

Flags flew from cars. Buses full of fans opened up another case of beer. Television stations changed their programming so they could cover live the arrival of the Costa Rican team at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa.

Some, like Mario Benez, spent all day showing their support for the national Selection or "Sele." He pounded a drum downtown all afternoon and was spotted doing the same thing at 10 p.m.

But a Costa Rican national team victory was not to be. The final score was 2-1, and the Costa Rican mood was more subdued.

There are nine more games to go in this preliminary to the World Cup competition.

Our story is HERE!

Pigeons poisoned at plaza where kids play
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

Firemen gathered the bodies of dead and dying pigeons Wednesday afternoon, after someone spread poisoned corn in the Plaza de la Cultura. 

According to Victor Quiros, a fireman, someone spread the corn earlier Wednesday. The fireman had been called in after several persons noticed birds dying in the square.

The firemen roped off a large portion of the square with yellow caution tape as they gathered the dead birds. The firemen wore plastic gloves and placed the birds in plastic garbage bags to prevent spreading the poison.

A crowd gathered to watch as the firemen and workers from the Fundación Museos del Banco Central gathered up the poisoned corn and the dead birds. Workers from the museum foundation gathered the corn into a plastic bag. They said they would have it analyzed.

Quiros said that workers had been collecting the bodies for more than an hour. He said that at least 50 birds had perished in the incident. 

Representatives from the Judicial Investigation Organization said they would continue to investigate the case. 

The square is surrounded by buildings, including the Teatro Nacional and the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. Birds roost in these structures during the night and provide entertainment 

A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Worker Debil Pérez Hernández picks up a struggling pigeon for isolation and destruction at the Plaza de la Cultura

during the day for visitors who feed them.

More dead birds might be in the facades of the adjacent buildings. A  later estimate said that more than 200 birds may have died.

The square is popular for parents who bring youngsters to the plaza, purchase corn from vendors and feed the birds. The plaza provides a roof for the multi-floor underground museums of the Banco Central, including the Museo del Oro or gold museum.

The poisonings did not reduce significantly the number of pigeons flocking in the area Wednesday, although periodically a bird would collapse.

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National team’s effort
was not enough to win

By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s national team put forth a great effort Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to overcome an early two-goal deficit to México. The team hosted Mexico’s team at Saprissa Stadium in San Juan de Tibás at 8 p.m.

Earlier in the day, downtown San José was alive with fútbol fever. Cab drivers honked their horns, street vendors draped their stands with Costa Rican flags and hundreds of people donned Tico uniforms. Unfortunately for the fans, the added support was not enough to overcome the top-seeded Mexican team.

Costa Rica allowed two goals in the first 12 minutes and never recovered. The team played hard and kept the ball deep inside Mexican territory for the rest of the game, but could only muster one goal off of a corner kick towards the end of the first half. The Ticos failed to capitalize on several opportunities in the second half and Mexico maintained its lead, winning 2 to 1.

The win is an important one for Mexico. It puts the team at the top of the Caribbean and North and Central American standings in the final qualifying round for the 2006 World Cup. Mexico is now tied with the United States for first after the U.S. team beat Trinidad and Tobago earlier in the day, 

The loss was not a total failure, however, as the Ticos proved that they could play well against an elite international team. The Ticos should feel confident about their chances to finish within the top three in their grouping, which would earn a spot for the team in the World Cup.

After the game ended, fans funneled out of local bars and headed home. After a day of high-energy support the fans were disappointed. The Fuerza Pública had stationed officers throughout the city in case to control any large crowds, but their duties were made much easier due to the loss.

The team must now regroup before the next game March 26 at Panamá. The team still has nine games left in the qualification round, but they can’t afford to slip up against the lower ranked squad from Panamá.

The Ticos will get one last shot at México Aug. 17.

Graph shows 2003 consumption of airgcraft fule in green and that in 2004 in purple over the 12 months of the year. Consumption is expressed in barrels of fuel.

Purchase of aircraft fuel
up nearly a third in 2004

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

High season for the tourism industry in Costa Rica has greatly helped the economy. This is according to the Refinadora Costarricense de Petroleo. The company announced that the tourism industry has dramatically increased aircraft fuel consumption. . 

According to the refinery, the consumption of aircraft fuel, known as Jet A-1, has increased by 31 percent compared to last year. 

The refinery said that this is a result of the government’s attempts to attract potential investors and tourists. Airlines such as West Caribbean, Air Canada and Air Madrid have begun flights to Costa Rica. In addition, American Airlines, Iberia, Copa and Taca have increased the amount of scheduled flights to Costa Rica. 

In 2003 the refinery registered a total consumption of 142,905.000 liters of aircraft fuel.. At  the end of 2004, 187,275,000 liters has been consumed. This is an increase in demand of 31 percent

Litleton Bolton, president of the national petroleum company said that the firm would increase its activities in the airline area: "In the case of Juan Santamaría, we will be building a new fuel distribution terminal. And in Liberia, we are acquiring specialized equipment." 

Bank robbery suspect
was frequent visitor

By the A.M Costa Rica staff

An American has been deported from Costa Rica to face a bank robbery charge in Houston, Texas. 

The man, David Thomas Hughes, 32, was arrested by immigration police for passport fraud Jan. 28. He was arrested in Pérez Zeledón. Officials said that he frequently visited Costa Rica under a false name.

Immigration police were alerted when Hughes completed documents at the U.S. Embassy.  The FBI were offering $1,000 for his capture. American authorities confirmed that Hughes has pending charges in the State of South Carolina related to passport fraud. The Hays County, Texas, Sheriff's Department also has an order of capture relating to a bank robbery in Houston of $200,000. Once officials had confirmed the man’s identity the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería authorized his immediate deportation without the need for U.s. officials to file for extradition. 

Officials said that Hughes has been entering Costa Rica since Oct. 15, 2000. He is believed to have come via air as well as crossing at the Paso Canoas border station with Panama and the Peñas Blancas stations with Nicaragua. 

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Couple of skulls cause officials to worry about cult
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A young man found two skulls and several inverted crosses inside a well-known unoccupied church in Puriscal Tuesday afternoon. Local officials say a satanic cult may be responsible.

An individual who used to work at the church first saw the skulls and contacted the Fuerza Pública. Capt. Roy Chavarría said that his men arrived at 4:20 p.m. and found the two skulls a few feet away from the crosses and that they had also located five apparently human ribs. They were near the church’s altar.

According to Chavarría, the skulls appeared to have been used as candleholders. One of the skulls was covered with melted wax and looked like it had been used several times.

Chavarría said that the bones and the crosses might be the remnants of a ritual performed by a satanic cult that might be using the church. Although police do not have any suspect, Chavarria said that a new cult might be growing in Puriscal. What is not clear is what law might have been broken by someone leaving such items in the church.

Of course, another possibility is that some is playing a practical joke.
Chavarria said that he did not believe that murder was involved. Rather, he said the bones were probably taken from a cemetery. He noted that the nearby Cemeterio de Grifo Bajo was vandalized in January when someone broke off several of the stone crosses atop of the graves. 

The church has been unoccupied since 1990 when an earthquake rendered it unusable. The church has become a 

Costa Rican national heritage site. It faces the town square.

Dall Anese will study allegation against Figueres
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation’s chief prosecutor said Wednesday that his office would investigate an allegation leveled by legislators against José María Figueres Olsen, a former president.

The short statement from the Poder Judicial does not rule out the  possibility that an investigation on another topic might already be under way.

The chief prosecutor, Francisco Dall Anese, the fiscal general, confirmed by means of the short statement that a complaint presented by the legislative deputies against Figueres had been received in his office. The statement said that an investigation would take place to determine if the allegation by the deputies constitute a crime.

The members of the legislative panel, the Comisión de Ingreso y Gasto Público, have asked Figueres four times to appear to answer questions about a $900,000 commission he received from Acatel, the French telephone company that has major contracts in Costa Rica.

The committee says that Figueres has a legal obligation 

to appear when told to do so and that he is guilty of disobedience to public authority.

Figueres is in Switzerland and has shown no inclination to return to Costa Rica where he might join two other ex-presidents in pre-trial detention.

Figueres, son of the principal architect of the nation’s constitution and social rights state, served from 1994 to 1998. He is a member of the Partido Liberación Nacional, which was founded by his father, José Figueres Ferrer

José Figueres was director general of the World Economic forum until allegations about bribery and kickbacks landed two other presidents in prison. When news of his commissions from the communication company leaked, he was asked to step down.

Alcatel is under investigation for multiple reasons. The company figures in allegations against Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría and Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the two jailed former presidents.

Rodríguez, who served from 1998 to 2002, was forced to step down in October after a brief stint as secretary general of the Organization of American States.

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Flood disaster in Guyana largely unnoticed, U.N. says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A $3 million appeal has been issued by the United Nations to help more than 300,000 people in Guyana, almost half of the country's total population, recover from December floods.

The U.N. said the funds would be for providing safe water, adequate sanitation, healthy food, and re-establishing health services and education in Guyana, which has a population of about 697,000 people.

Jan Egeland, U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said the emergency in Guyana may have gone unnoticed in the outside world because of the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean area in the same month as the floods that struck Guyana.

Yet for Guyana, "the effects of the floods have been no less devastating than on the Indian Ocean beaches.  Having witnessed the impressive generosity of donors for survivors of the tsunami, I hope that they contribute rapidly and fully to this appeal," said Egeland.

The U.N. said drainage of the floodwaters in Guyana has been extremely slow, and between 80,000 and 90,000 people still have water in and around their homes weeks after the disaster struck.  Many areas remain accessible only by boat, and the water level is reportedly still as high as 1.2 to 1.5 meters (from four to five feet) in some villages, while rivers have swollen alarmingly.

The risk of disease remains a major threat, and poor sanitation, waste management, and insect proliferation have rendered the waters highly infectious, said the U.N., which echoed a warning this week by the U.N.'s Pan American Health Organization that the number of cases of a bacterial disease known as leptospirosis continues to rise, even as an outbreak of other diseases also remains a threat to public safety.

Beyond meeting immediate needs, especially of vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, and the elderly, the U.N. said the appeal will help kick-start rehabilitation by providing small farming communities with seeds, veterinarian services, and equipment to rebuild their livelihoods.

Mexico's Fox tries to tighten security after major leak
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MÉXICO CITY, México — President Vicente Fox is deciding how best to change and strengthen his security forces and bodyguard protection, following the arrest of one of his senior staff members, who is accused of leaking his travel itinerary to a drug cartel.

The Mexican Attorney General's Office has confirmed that Nahum Acosta, the official in charge of organizing President Vicente Fox's frequent official trips around the country, is accused of leaking details of the president's travel agenda to drug traffickers in Northern Mexico. Acosta was arrested in the Presidential Palace last week. He has worked in the travel office since 2001 and was a trusted senior member of staff.

The Fox administration has arrested more drug cartel leaders than any previous government, following the president's campaign pledge to make the fight against narcotics traffickers his No. 1 law and order priority.

"We will convince them that this is a real challenge for us, and we are going to win the battle against drug trafficking within Mexico," said Fox.

Last month, President Fox again upped the stakes, cracking down even harder on the cartels. He ordered the Army and Federal Police to take over operation of several key maximum security penitentiaries and split up their most dangerous inmates, sending them into separate facilities. He has also reinforced several beleaguered police forces on Mexico's border with the United States, where the cartels are particularly violent.

Professor Celia Toro, an expert on drug cartels, is based at the College of México. She says a rash of drug-related killings is directly related to the government's stepped-up campaign to dismantle the drug cartels.

"The smuggling per se, or cocaine trafficking per se, doesn't bring any violence," says Ms. Toro. "What brings violence is increasing enforcement against them. Violence is a reaction against more sophisticated or more powerful enforcement against them."

Rolando Soliz spent 23 years in the U.S. Secret Service. During that time he was bodyguard to presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush.  He is now the director general of the México City office of Vance International Security firm.

Soliz says the fact that a drug cartel was able to penetrate the inner circles of the president is a matter of great concern.

He says, while there are limits to the ability to keep the president's trips secret, the security apparatus must be tightened to make his travel safe.

"It's like moving around an 800 pound gorilla," he explained.  "Sooner or later, the public needs to know that he's coming to visit, or will know that he's coming to visit a certain site, because he doesn't travel just by himself. He's traveling with a large entourage.

Fox himself is acknowledging he is under a greater threat.  He has called for redoubled vigilance, saying the conflict between the authorities and organized crime, has made the drug gangs challenge the Mexican state.

Jo Stuart
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