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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 35
Jo Stuart
About us
Tourist usually heavily protected
Crime on upswing but personal habits are key
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Visitors and potential residents quickly ask about crime in Costa Rica.

The flip answer is that anyone is safe unless they go looking for trouble. But even Costa Ricans are concerned about the growth in street crime when the degree of force involved is far in excess of what the situation requires.

For example, a robber died two weeks ago when he held up bus passengers (including a plainclothes agent) with a shotgun. Investigators grabbed another gang that specialized in holding up small businesses such as beauty parlors and little stores. Two more robberies of business places were thwarted this week, places most reasonable individuals would consider are not worth the effort.

Although larger businesses maintain their own staff of private guards, more and more banks and major companies are being held up. 

One reason is the slowing consumer economy. Another reasons is proliferation of drugs, mainly crack cocaine. The crack addict will do anything to get money. Crack also is cheap, some 500 colons ($1.30) per rock, so the crime may be violent as well as petty.

Police investigators have said that there is an influx of Colombian gang members and Nicaraguan criminals. The country traditionally has kept an open door to the downtrodden. But perhaps as many as six Colombians have been murdered in high-profile shootings within the last year in what police believe to be rivalries imported from that war-torn country.

Residents of beach communities have seen an increase in home burglaries. Some residents outside Nosara wanted to put up a gate and guard house to slow down the traffic of unknown motorists particularly late at night after a string of break-ins there.

A similar upsurge in burglaries has been reported in the Jacó-Hermosa area. In Manuel Antonio and Quepos a gang of unsupervised youngsters presents a problem. The Caribbean reports an upsurge, too.

The court system is inundated, and even repeat offenders manage to dodge serious penalties. Tuesday a top lawyer said in a hearing that the court system spent too much money and needed to be restructured.

Although A.M. Costa Rica has been accused by some in the tourist trade of overplaying crime stories, this newspaper usually only publishes reports of crimes involving English-speakers or ones so sensational that readers should be informed. In this category would be the kidnapping of children. 

Many stories go unreported because they are not relevant to this newspaper’s readers.

Anyone who travels Central and Latin America knows that Costa Rica is an oasis of calm in a brutal world. Other countries have many more social problems and violence. Even though Costa Rica experiences more than 200 murders a year, this number is small compared to other countries.

If one were to subtract all the alcohol-induced weekend crime, the number becomes much smaller. That is why a daytime shootout on a busy street, as happened Monday in Guadalupe, is such big news. That is why Costa Ricans were shocked when hit men cut down Parmenio Medina, the radio show host, near his Heredia home more than a year ago.

Still a detailed summary of daily crime, either provided by the police or provided in blazing color by one of the popular Spanish-language newspapers, is unnerving. Crimes do happen and violently. The popular dailies such as Extra flaunt them with photos of the body of the day on Page One and a whole daily section of robberies, stabbings, crashes and similar.

Foreigners seem to show up in these litanies of crimes far less than their numbers would predict. Most tourists unknowingly spend their whole time here under heavy protection.

Crimes happen to foreigners who do not maintain strict security. But interpersonal relations also is key. 

Most of the murders of  U.S. citizens in the last two years were by people known to them. Sometimes the major suspect is the younger wife or girl friend. Often it is a jilted lover. In nearly all cases, the criminals gained access to the victim’s home in a betrayal of trust and not by force.

Other murders happened when solitary or female tourists dropped their guard. One or two foreign women walking alone at night is not a good idea. Even worse is a lone foreign male, wallet bulging, staggering a bit en route home after the bar closes. 

In addition to titillating readers, crime stories are cautionary tales that provide instructions on what not to do. 

Missing girl is citizen
of U.S.

Miss Quirós
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another teenage girl is missing, and this is not unusual in Costa Rica. But this girl is a U.S. citizen, the product of the union of a Costa Rica woman and an American man.

Another unusual factor is that the girl has been missing since Nov. 15. Typically missing teens return home within a week or two, according to officials.

Investigators are not saying much about the girl. She is Xochil Enoch Quirón, 15, the daughter of Francisca Quirós Urbina of Llorente de Tibás.

Agents also would not explain why they did not seek publicity for the missing girl shortly after she vanished. There has been no word from the U.S. Embassy either.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said merely that the girl left her home in the company of some female friends and never returned.

Each month investigators release photos and brief summaries on a handful of youngsters and sometimes adults. They hope the publicity will bring them home.

Any information of the missing girl should be reported to 295-3575 or 295-3575.

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Guatemalan government walks from rights hearing
The representatives of Guatemala walked out of the court hearing Wednesday morning, the second day of the session. An earlier story follows.

By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After nearly 13 years of fighting for justice, the family of Myrna Mack Chang brought her allegedly state-sponsored murder in Guatemala before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Tuesday.

The state of Guatemala has submitted to the court a document that outlines the country’s partial acceptance of responsibility in Myrna Mack’s politically motivated murder. Her supporters contend she died at the hands of intelligence officers because she was writing a book on Guatemala’s bloody civil war.

Ms. Mack, 40, was brutally stabbed to death. Family members said she had wounds over her limbs and abdomen. They also described how they had to wash her hair because it was still drenched in blood as the preparations were made for her wake and funeral.

In the relative tranquility of Costa Rica, the trial commenced.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the first day of the trial — which pits the family of Ms. Mack against Guatemala — four witnesses were called to give evidence. The legal representatives for the family of Ms. Mack questioned witnesses vigorously, regularly asking them to repeat answers.

The first was Bishop Julio Cabrera, who worked with Ms. Mack in her social investigative work into the displaced people of Guatemala. The second was Virjilio Rodriguez, a newspaper salesman around the Mack home at the time of the death. They both gave accounts of the circumstances leading up to day of her murder.

Cabrera was assured and composed in his account. He said the day after he learned of Ms. Mack’s murder he went to the military zone and said: "You have killed an innocent person."

Rodriguez told of how he saw men investigating the area around the Mack home in the days before her murder. Being a witness, he fled Guatemala fearing for his life, he said. When asked where he lived, he hesitated, before saying only: "Canada."

The two other witnesses were Ms. Mack’s daughter and sister, Lucresia Maria Hernandez Mack and Helen Mack Chang.

Ms. Hernandez spoke fondly of her mother. She 

spoke of the loss of her mother at a tender age — she was just 16 years old. "No one has supported me in [the] . . . happy times," she said.

Ms. Hernandez said: "I didn’t have my mother with me when I had my children." Crying and visibly upset, Ms. Hernandez also said her mother missed her graduation from school. She is now a medical student.

Ms. Mack’s sister, Helen, was the last witness to be called. She was described as the leading person in the fight for justice for Ms. Mack. Helen Mack said she has dedicated her life to seeking justice. For the almost 13 years since Myrna Mack’s murder, Guatemala’s domestic justice system has failed to produce anything that would reveal the truth and bring justice, she said.

The family's lawyers said three men accused of being the "intellectual authors" of Ms. Mack's murder are currently being held in Guatemala. Their trial, however, is constantly delayed, said Helen Mack.

The lawyers for Guatemala chose not to ask questions.  However, some of the judges had questions  for Helen Mack. 

The questions concentrated solely on elements from within Helen Mack’s testimony from questions asked by the lawyers representing her sister. The questions concerned outcome that Helen Mack said she wanted from the trial: the elimination of state secrets, which, she said, leads to impunity.

The questions were brief. They did not appear to push Helen Mack too far. 

Ms. Mack was murdered outside her place of work in Guatemala City Sept. 11, 1990. She was an anthropologist working as a "social investigator" for a non-profit organization.

Ms. Mack had worked in areas where the war was taking place, collecting information on people displaced from their homes because of the war. Witnesses claimed that the regime at the time did not want what was happening in those areas — reportedly including grave human rights abuses — to become common knowledge outside of those areas and that that was the reason she was killed. 

She had, according to Cabrera, complained of being followed in the days leading up to her death. 

The sentiments voiced by Ms. Hernandez, Myra Mack’s daughter, during her testimony, "My mother was killed for political reasons," were echoed from almost every individual who spoke before the judges, except the representatives of Guatemala. But they did not object.

Death of 3 women
investigated in Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Police in Juarez, just across the border from the city of El Paso, Texas, are investigating the deaths of three young women. Their bodies were found Monday in a desert ravine. 

Women's groups and human rights organizations are expressing outrage that local authorities have failed to stop the killers who have claimed more than 300 lives in the past 10 years.

Investigators found the remains of the three women in the same area where around 20 other bodies have been found in recent years. Police spokesmen have declined to provide any details of the investigation so far but preliminary information indicates that the women were murdered. One victim had her hands tied behind her back.

Police say they will make an effort to identify the victims and search for clues to find the killer or killers. But the Juarez representative of the Mexican Human Rights Commission, Adriana Carmona, says local authorities are not doing enough.

She says it appears impunity rules in her city. Ms. Carmona says the efforts made by Mexican and international human rights groups, and what she describes as the small efforts made by local authorities, have not been sufficient to stop the killings.

Over the past decade, more than 320 bodies of young women have been found in and around Juarez, a city of 1.3 million people. Many of the victims have been workers in local maquiladoras, or assembly plants, which are located in Juarez to take advantage of the proximity of the U.S. border. The closeness of the border may also have something to do with the murder spree, according to some investigators. 

A former profiler for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation who worked in Juarez for a time with local authorities said one or more serial killers were responsible for at least several dozen of the victims. The former bureau profiler, Robert Ressler, said the killer or killers could be living on the U.S. side of the border and crossing over occasionally to commit the murders.

Women's activists in Juarez say their city could be a magnet for such killers because of the climate of violence and the lack of effective law enforcement. Juarez has also been the scene of hundreds of other killings, many of which are related to drug trafficking. 

Former spy chief
on trial for corruption 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — A former spy chief who was once one of the most feared men here has gone on trial for corruption charges under tight security at a prison. 

Anti-corruption judges heard oral arguments Tuesday in the corruption case against Vladimiro Montesinos, who was an aide to former president Alberto Fujimori. Montesinos arrived at the jail in a bulletproof vest, while sharpshooters and police troops guarded the area. 

The former spy chief is on trial for allegedly using his influence while in power to get his girlfriend's brother freed from prison. Montesinos still faces a total of about 70 charges, including money laundering, arms trafficking and murder. 

Prosecutors say Montesinos orchestrated a vast network of corruption and directed a paramilitary death squad. A state attorney assigned to his case, Ronald Gamarra, said today marks the beginning of a trial against probably the most corrupt man in the history of the country. 

Police grab gang
in Tibás robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For the second day in a row, Fuerza Pública officers broke up a major crime. They put to flight five persons who were attacking a house in Tibás.

Later police raided a home used by the gang and found a number of weapons, including an Uzi submachine gun.

Police said four of the five suspects arrested had lengthy police records, including one who had been detained by the police five time, including once for homicide.

When police arrived at the dwelling where the gang was trying to enter, the criminals fled, some of them to the rooftops.

In nearby Guadalupe, police engaged in a running gun battle Monday to capture a suspected robber. His companion died in the shootout. A third person escaped.

Intel expanding
Arizona wafer site

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Intel Corp. said Wednesday that it would convert Fab 12, a Chandler, Ariz., wafer fabrication facility, to a 300-mm. wafer plant. The conversion project, estimated to cost $2 billion, will begin in the first half of 2004 with production scheduled to begin in late 2005. 

When completed, the converted Fab 12 will become Intel's fifth 300-mm. wafer facility. Manufacturing with 300-mm wafers (about 12 inches in diameter) dramatically increases the ability to produce semiconductors, said the company. The firm has a facility in the Central Valley.

Costa Rica seeking
asylum for Nigerian

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has offered to accept Amina Lawal to save her life from execution in Nigeria. President Abel Pacheco said this in a letter to Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo Tuesday. 

The woman was sentenced to die by stoning because of adultery, and other nations also have expressed a desire to accept her. Pacheco said that Costa Rica was very troubled that a high court has upheld the death sentence.

Fruit company strike
over as accord reached

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workers at Standard Fruit in Limón have reached an accord with the company, according to Ovidio Pacheco, minister of Trabajo. The accord ends a one-day walkout.

Under terms of the agreement, the workers will be allowed to form a new union and have the right to attend union meetings. The firm also agreed to have the Ministerio de Trabajo investigate the case of an employee who was fired.

Gunmen spray house
of ex-investigator

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Someone fired at least 12 bullets into the home of a former agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

This happened about 3:30 a.m., said police officials. The home is in Barrio Pinto, San Pedro. The shots came from persons in a car, said police.
The former agent has the last name of Palma.

Sex exploitation
targeted by grant

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States today will donate $511,854 to Costa Rica to be used in fighting the sexual exploitation of minors.

The ceremony will be at Casa Presidencial where President Abel Pacheco will be a witness to the agreement and delivery of the grant.

The money will be used to improve the investigation and processing of cases of sexual exploitation and to provide help to victims, according to a release from Casa Presidencial.

The efforts paid for by the U.S. donation also will include identification of legal impediments to the investigation of such cases. The grant also will establish technical help, equipment and training for personnel involved in this area.

The duration of the grant is 18 months, Casa Presidencial said.

The U.S. Embassy said that the ambassador, John Danilovich would participate. Receiving the grant money will be Luis Paulino Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. Rogelio Ramos, the minister of Seguridad Pública, and Rosalía Gil, minister of Niñez

Cuban coastguardsmen
released in United States 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — U.S. Immigration officials have released four Cuban coastguardsmen who made a daring journey across the Florida Straits and whose return is being sought by the Cuban government. 

The government of President Fidel Castro argues that allowing the officers to remain in the United States would violate immigration accords.

Already, the nine-meter patrol boat the men used to flee Cuba has been returned to Cuba.

The escape gained notoriety after the coast guard vessel docked at a marina Feb. 7 on the tiny resort island Key West, off Florida's southernmost tip. Armed and in uniform, the four wandered the streets before surrendering to a local police officer. U.S. authorities later found the vessel flying the Cuban flag.

Initially, the coastguardsmen said they made a spontaneous decision to flee Cuba while patrolling waters near Havana. Now, however, they concede the voyage had been planned for months, and that they made their break for the United States while President Castro was delivering a speech at a theater in the Cuban capital.
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Environment group seeks to help Indian center
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British organization Raleigh International is kicking off a project in Boruca in the southwest of the country.

Raleigh, an organization that organizes voluntary environmental and cultural expeditions for youths, said that it has teamed up with a couple descended from Costa Rica’s Brunca Indian tribe, José Carlos Morales and Leila Garro Valverde. The couple want to transform their farm, near Buenos Aries de Puntarenas, into an Indian cultural center. 

The center will preserve what the couple see as important traditions for future generations, according to a Raleigh official.

One of the traditions involves a rare form of house building. Morales’ father is the last remaining Brunca who knows the techniques required for building traditional Brunca "ranchos," said the Raleigh official. It is hoped that these techniques will be passed down to future generations of Bruncas.

Indian groups in Costa Rica now make up only around 1 percent of the population, according to the last census, conducted in 2000. In 1977, the then-Costa Rican government established protected Indian reserves, where non-Indian groups have no right to buy or rent land. Some of these protected areas are in the vicinity where the couple plans to build the center.

These reserves have been mired in problems in the not too distant past. The government wants to 

build a large dam and hydro power station in the area, and this would flood much of the reserve.

And only last year, A.M. Costa Rica reported problems with marijuana growth in Indian reserves. According to the report some of the marijuana growth was being orchestrated by a collaboration of Indians and non-Indians. Indians were the growers, said the report, while non-Indians bought and moved the drugs onto the country’s streets.

Raleigh is currently involved in a number of other projects in Costa Rica. The organization said it is helping to plan a footrace marathon in Santa María, near Buenos Aries, again in the south of the country. The organization also said it is aiding the maintenance of the Karen Mogensen reserve on the Nicoya Peninsula. There the organization will help build a lookout tower to protect against the forest fires that plague the area.

Additionally, the organization is continuing its work at the artificial coral reef it created at Curú Bay on the Nicoya Peninsula over the last two years. An organization official said that new research indicates the reef has attracted five species of fish never before seen in Costa Rican waters.

Recently, Raleigh was involved in the creation of the first ever wheelchair access path in a national park in Central America, said the organization’s official. The path is in Carara National Park. Although the path was officially opened by Georgina Butler, British ambassador to Costa Rica, and her wheelchair-bound mother in December last year, work has not yet been completed.

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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