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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 34          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Fidel has his passport
Cuban baseballer called to majors mired here

By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Michel Abreu is living every Cuban kid's dream.  He's been offered a contract with the New York Mets Major League baseball franchise.  Spring training starts March 5, and Abreu, one of the giants of Cuban baseball, should be there. 

Unfortunately, the dream is now mired in bureaucracy.

Abreu is a refugee in Costa Rica.  He snuck off the island of Cuba because Cuban National team officials confiscated his passport.  After a brief stint in Mexico, Abreu came to Costa Rica.  In order to get one of the U. S. visas that each Major League baseball team is allocated each year, the U. S. Overseas Foreign Asset Commission had to verify that he wasn't a threat.  $60,000 in lawyer's fees later, Abreu's refugee status was interpreted as residency, and the foreign asset commission unblocked him.  The Mets offered him a visa, and all he has to do is go to the U. S. Embassy in San José to get it. 

Unfortunately, one can't just show up to the U. S. Embassy.  An appointment is necessary.  A friend, Yen Flores, called the embassy for him.  The  call was not  answered, she said.  Ms. Flores couldn't leave a message either because that part of the phone system wouldn't work, she said.  She called back again.  And again.  And two more times.  A man answered and told her she needed to pay 2,000 colons to make the appointment, which she did by credit card, she said. 

Then, the man asked her for Abreu's passport number.  He doesn't have a passport. He has a refugee card which doesn't indicate residency.  No residency, no appointment, she was told. 

The two went to the embassy in person hoping to find someone to explain their situation to.  A guard turned them away.  An appointment must be made by phone, they were told.   

However, Abreu's situation is not hopeless, American businessman Richard Sims – who is also a friend of Abreu - is hopeful that a letter from the foreign asset commission to the embassy can get Abreu an appointment, get him his visa and get him to spring training by March 5. 

If that doesn't work, Abreu's refugee card acts like a travel document.  He can go to Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic, get residency there, get the visa, etc.  But with only three weeks left before spring training, time is running out.  In addition, getting residency in another country can involve bribing someone and Abreu wants to keep 

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Michel Abreu nurses his dream

things legal, he said.  Therefore, he's hanging his immediate hopes on the U.S. Embassy giving him an appointment. 

Abreu is one of five Cuban players who defected from the island March 2004.  One of the other four, Barbaro Cañizares lives
one floor below Abreu near Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry, and has a contract with the Atlanta Braves.  He has a passport but has not had his refugee status changed.

 He will circumvent the problem by going to the Dominican Republic. 

That baseball-friendly country routinely deals with sending players to the big leagues and Cañizares should be in the United States in time to start spring training.  The other three defectors have not yet been offered contracts. 

According to Sims, Abreu is as popular in Cuba as Micheal Jordan is in the United States. 
“Everybody in Cuba is waiting on this,” he said. 

Abreu hopes to follow Cañizares north and when he does, he should do well.  Last season in the professional Nicaraguan league, he had a .315 batting average, was fifth in the league with 56 hits and led the league in home runs with 14.

While cooling their heels in Costa Rica, Simms has been pitching to Abreu and Cañizares to keep them in shape.

“It costs like $300 in baseballs per hour to train these guys,” he said.  When they hit them, you can never find them.” 

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 34

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Carlos Miguel Duarte Castillo knows his oranges. He runs a business in the Central Market of San José, one of the many offering fresh fruit and juices.

Ciudad Colón orange fest
starts today with dances

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ciudad Colón Feria de la Naranja is a lot more than oranges. The 10-day event, which begins today, is one of the more traditional in the area.

Some high points include a concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional Friday, Feb. 24, and a big band group Saturday, Feb. 25, at 4 p.m.

Also Saturday. Feb. 25,  at 10 a.m. organizers plan a trail ride leaving at 10 a.m. for Rancho Higuerón and Sunday, Feb. 26, is the caminata, another gathering of horses and riders. Feb. 26, the final day of the festival, also has a mountain bike rally planned for 9 a.m. and aerobics an hour later.

Festivities conclude Sunday, Feb. 26, with a big fireworks show.

Agricultural experts estimate that more than 120 producers are involved with oranges in the area and some 400 hectares are under production. Oranges here have special characteristics of color and taste that distinguish them from the same type of fruit grown elsewhere, they say.

The event is organized by the Centro Agrícola Cantonal de Mora, the Asociación Pro Rescate de la Cultura and the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

Because Ciudad Colón is near the Quitirrisí Indian settlement, there will be opportunities for visitors to purchase native crafts and art. Indian dances will inaugurate the festival this afternoon.

The location is adjacent to the Catholic Church in the community which is west of San José.

Generally three types of oranges are grown here: criollas, mandarinas and valencias. Also available for purchase will be other fruits from the zone and honey made from orange nectar.

Stars are on the agenda
at Museo Nacional

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo Nacional is holding an astronomy day to teach students about the stars, planets and the science of studying them. 

The conference, “Día de la Astronomía, Un vistazo a las estrellas,” is scheduled to run from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and will include a number of different activities.  The program begins with a telescope exhibition.  There will also be planetary exhibition where images of the universe will be projected every 30 minutes and astronomers will be on hand to answer viewers' questions.

These will be followed by a conference on Mercury by José A. Villalobos and a conference on Pluto with Daniel Azofeifa.  Organizers have also planned an outdoor star watch at the end of the conference, if weather permissions permit.   

Women's Club organizes
dance show and luncheon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Woman's Club of Costa Rica is organizing a luncheon and dance performance to raise money for several of the group's charities. 

The annual March Luncheon will feature Costa Rican dancers Marlene and Feliz López who took a dance class a couple of years ago and have been hooked ever since.  Part of the proceeds will go to the “Reading is Fun” program which seeks to place bookcases with 100 books in schools throughout Costa Rica. 

The three-course luncheon starts at 11:30 a.m. March 15 at the Costa Rica Country Club.  Another feature includes the Dining Out raffle which will give the winners a chance to eat at some of the Central Valley's most popular restaurants.  Raffle tickets cost 500 colons or three for 1,000 colons.  Winners don't have to be present.

Luncheon tickets cost 8,000 colons and are available at the Women's Club of Costa Rica barrio teas, their interest groups and from board and advisory committee members.  Anyone is welcome to attend, the group said.
Monday is President's Day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's another day off for the U.S. Embassy.

Monday is President's Day, a legal holiday in the United States. This is the Monday holiday proclaimed by Richard Nixon in 1971 to mark the Feb. 12 birthday of Abraham Lincoln and the Feb. 22 birthday of George Washington, the embassy noted.

Consequently, the embassy and consular services will be closed that day. However, some services are available in an emergency.  Embassy staffers celebrate both Costa Rican and U.S. holidays, a total of 20 each year.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 34

Firemen begin to roll up their hoses after quelling a fire that produces dangerous fumes.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Smoky morning fire guts bar and emits toxic fumes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fire that broke out at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning burned four buildings including a chemical producer and Bar Yesterday. 

The fire consumed some 1,800 square meters in Barrio Carit in front of the Estación del Pacifico over approximately 45 minutes until five fire units were able to control it, said Hector Chávez, director de los bomberos.  Some of the firefighers suffered mild smoke inhalation and had to be attended to by paramedics, Chávez said.   
Firefighters were mostly worried about the chemical company, Quimifarma S.A.  When the fire began consuming the building, the chemicals went with it and the resulting smoke was extremely toxic, Chávez said.  For this reason, officials closed the surrounding streets until the fire was doused, Chávez said. 

He added that the buildings were often used by drug addicts and suspects that one of their flames was responsible for the fire.  The Hospital de las Mujeres with its well-known maternity unit is nearby, and officials considered evacuating the hospital before fires were able to control it.   

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
The Rev. Bernardo Leandro reads a blessing for new motor vehicles while Rosalia Gill, the minister of Niñez; President Abel Pacheco and María del Rocío Sáenz, the minister of Salud, wait the opportunity to speak.

Child protection agency gets news cars, computers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government office that protects children got 15 new vehicles and 200 new computers Wednesday as President Abel Pacheco praised the director for having rescued the agency.

The director is Rosalia Gill, and the agency is the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia. Pacheco outlined a series of steps he and his administration has taken to battle the sexual exploitation of children.

The president came into office four years ago on the heels of President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, who said publicly that there was not a child exploitation problem in Costa Rica.

Pacheco said his administration has waged 15 separate campaigns against sexual abuse, violence and exploitation of children. He also noted that Costa Rica has joined a network of other Central American nations that attempts to keep known 
sexual offenders from entering the countries.

The computers and some 50 million colons ($100,000) will go to help link the various regional offices of the Patronato via the Internet. The total amount of equipment is valued at some 300 million colons ($600,000).

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 34

Vote count frozen in Haiti after burned ballots surface
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

Haitian election officials have stopped the vote counting from last week's national elections, after thousands of burned ballots were found in a trash heap outside Port-au-Prince. For three days, demonstrations have paralyzed the capital city with supporters for leading candidate Rene Preval demanding he be named president.

Thousands of election ballots smoldered on a trash heap on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince just hours after presidential front-runner Rene Preval declared that he was sure that major fraud had marred Haiti's Feb. 7 vote.

With more than 90 percent of the ballots counted, Preval has just under 50 percent of the vote. But he needs a majority to win the election outright, without going to a second-round runoff. As the vote count has proceeded since last week's election, Preval's lead has been in steady decline, from 61 percent to 49 percent.

In a press conference Tuesday, Preval said he was sure that massive fraud probably marred the election, and that he intends to protest if the final results show that he did not win the presidency.

Preval says if the results are published in their actual state, his Lespwa Party is going to contest them.
Preval was president from 1996-2001, and is seen as a close ally of exiled president Jean Bertrand Aristide, who fled Haiti two years ago following a violent uprising. Preval commands widespread support among Haiti's poor masses and has encouraged the masses to continue demonstrating, but Tuesday he stressed demonstrations should be non-violent.

Just hours later, angry voters rifled through a trash heap with thousands of smoldering ballots, many of them apparently were cast for Preval. The images were broadcast on national television late Tuesday.

Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets into the night and again early this morning, blocking roads and brandishing burned ballots. Demonstrating in front of the electoral council, protesters are demanding the resignation of council president Jacques Bernard.

The United Nations, which supervised the election and was responsible for the transport of the ballots, has not offered an official explanation, but some officials speculate the ballots may have come from nine voting centers that were ransacked on election day. They estimate nearly 35,000 ballots were lost.

The Haitian government has suspended further counting of the votes, and has said it is launching an investigation.

Gretzky on hot seat at Olympics due to betting scandal involving wife
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As the men's 2006 Winter Olympics hockey tournament began Wednesday, much of the focus has been on former star Wayne Gretzky, the executive director of the Canadian Olympic ice hockey team.  That is because of a gambling scandal.

The legendary Gretzky, considered by most to be the best ice hockey player of all time, told a throng of international reporters here that he did not want to be a distraction at these Olympics.

But everyone wants to know about his links to a U.S. sports gambling ring allegedly run by compatriot Rick Tocchet, a former NHL player and one of Gretzky's own assistant coaches with the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes in the western U.S. state of Arizona.

Gretzkys wife, former actress Janet Jones, is alleged to have placed bets with the gambling ring, which is being investigated in the eastern state of New Jersey.   Gretzky himself has not been implicated in the gambling ring, but Tocchet has been charged and authorities say he financed it.

The 45-year-old Gretzky told the media here at the Winter Olympics the same thing he has told Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson.

"It doesn't involve me," he said. "I'm not involved.  I called Bob Nicholson seven days ago to explain to him that I wasn't involved.  I've said it for seven days.  It's over and done with."
But not in the eyes of the media.  People want to know how Gretzky could not have been aware of something this serious involving his wife and Tocchet, his long-time trusted associate.  He has not addressed that.

Gretzky said he only wants to think about the Olympics now that he is here.

"The concern is to worry about playing hockey.  The concern is for these athletes, not just the hockey players but all the other athletes here who have worked their rear ends off to get to the Olympic Games," he said

Canada is one of the top ice hockey contenders here, and will try to defend its gold medal from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Canada opened its campaign in Turin with a 7-2 victory over Italy Wednesday in Group round robin play.  Sweden defeated Kazakhstan, 7-2.

Canada scored five consecutive goals in the second period after Italy had tied the Group-A game 1-1. Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, Shane Doan, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards all scored for Canada.

Meanwhile in Group-B, Daniel Tjarnqvist scored twice while brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin had one goal each to lead Sweden past Kazakhstan.

Later games have Finland against Switzerland, Germany playing the Czech Republic, Russia taking on Slovakia, and the United States against Latvia.

Morales in Bolivia rejects demand to kick out U.S. drug agents
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales has rejected calls by coca growers to expel U.S. drug agents, saying the Americans can stay in the country as long as they respect its laws.

President Morales said during a military ceremony here Wednesday that everyone has the right to be in Bolivia if they respect its national sovereignty and dignity. He said it is important to have international friendships.

The coca growers issued their call at a federation
 meeting Tuesday in Cochabamba, in which Morales was re-elected head of Bolivia's largest coca farmers union.

Word of the request to expel the U.S. agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration prompted the U.S. Embassy in La Paz to call off a scheduled meeting with Bolivian anti-narcotics officials.

A former coca farmer, Morales campaigned on promises to reverse a U.S.-backed campaign to eradicate coca, the main ingredient in cocaine.

He has proclaimed opposition to drug trafficking.

Jo Stuart
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