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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 35
Jo Stuart
About us
Investigators seek key to reason for street war
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A hidden war is being waged on the streets of San José and its suburbs. The war is generating its casualties, but investigators are not sure of the identities of the combatants or the reason.

The principal evidence are the drive-by shootings and the bodies of victims.

Another effort at an execution took place Wednesday in Escazú. A man from Honduras, Angel Efraín Leno Fernández, was driving to his home when gunman tried to kill him. This happened near the Trejos Montealegre shopping center in the vicinity of the Tony Roma Restaurant at midday.

The man took three bullets but survived, according to investigators. He had been in Costa Rica just a week, they said. The man was in Hospital CIMA with wounds to the chest, jaw and right arm, agents said.

Less than 24 hours before, a downtown store owner was the target when gunmen in a vehicle sprayed him with bullets. The man, Luis
Alberto Ayala Orellana, was not as lucky as Leno. The 35-year-old man who was on his way home was dead when police arrived at the scene just a few meters from the central post office.

Friday the bodies of two men showed up in a hollow in San Miguel de Santo Domingo de Heredia. They were killed execution style with a bullet neatly planted in the back of each man’s neck.

Tuesday investigators found their truck in Barrio Tournón and expected to find some evidence of drug trade within. The men, Jeremy Alverado Astúa, 24, and Jimmy Cavaría, 22, ran a small fruit delivery business. A search by investigators turned up no traces of drugs.

Some clues might come from the material left behind by Olesia Fedko, a 24-year-old Russian dancer. She turned up dead Jan. 29 near Playa Bandera, Parrita, also slain execution style. In her Sabana Sur apartment investigators found names, phone numbers, and photos of her enjoying herself with obviously wealthy individuals on yachts. 

Another woman, who also may have been from

the same social circle, turned up dumped in the Pacific Ocean near the Osa Peninsula and tied to a piece of rail iron. Her skeletonized body is giving investigators a problem in making an identification. But residents there remember seeing a woman who might have been the victim as a passenger on a luxury yacht.

Then there is the Dec. 23 case of the murdered journalist. Ivannia Mora Rodríguez, 33, who was clearly a victim of some kind of execution. She was seated with a colleague in her vehicle at a traffic light in Curridabat when men on a motorcycle pulled alongside and shot her in the head.

A few days before in the same area two men in a car killed another motorist, also in Curridabat. That victim was Lineth Barrera Narváez, who died about 11 p.m. on the Autopista Florencio del Castillo.

The unprecedented bloodshed skews statistics and stresses investigators. And the main frustration is not knowing exactly what is going on.

The situation does not yet resemble 1930s Chicago during the Al Capone era, but Costa Rica is getting unwelcome publicity.  Occasional killings as a result of random street crime sometimes happen. But a low-scale war for an unknown reason piles up the bodies and frightens residents and tourists alike.

Investigators would like to dismiss the killings as dispute between rival drug gangs, but many of the victims, such as the two young men killed in Heredia, do not have that kind of history. So police are looking for some other type of link,

Youth, 17, will face juvenile action over shooting at school
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17-year-old will face juvenile action after a test of his backpack turned up residue of gunpowder.

The discovery is consistent with the theory that the youth dropped the backpack and a weapon inside discharged. Two girls, 10 and 11, suffered bullet wounds to their legs Monday at a public school in La Florida de Tibás.

Investigators locked down the school but could 

not find any weapon. Wednesday morning Fuerza Pública officers located a .25-caliber pistol hidden in one of the toilet tanks of a boy’s room at the school.  At the same time laboratory tests on the youth’s backpack came back positive.

The shooting has prompted renewed concern among politicians and school officials over security, and some legislators are now calling for a special detail of police to guard every school. Others want a law changed to allow random searches of backpacks.


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Visiting ambassador
out to promote family

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When Ellen Sauerbrey got to the United Nations in her role as a U.S. envoy she said she was appalled at the lack of emphasis on strengthening and protecting the family.

That’s one of the main reasons she was in Costa Rica Wednesday as part of a three-nation Central American trip to make contacts for future international negotiating.

The former Maryland politician who holds the rank of ambassador said she and the United States were grateful for Costa Rica’s stand on many issues, including its U.N. resolution against human cloning. She is the U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

With Mrs. Sauerbrey were Daniel Zeidler of the Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia and E. Douglas Clark of United Families International, Inc.

Mrs. Sauerbrey made a presentation to Costa Rican diplomats and policymakers at the Instituto del Servicio Exterior Manual María de Peralta, an institute of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The ambassador’s major point was that government policy should help character-forming organizations, including religious organizations, as they stress the benefits of the traditional family. She said that U.S. states have begun to change employment policies to allow shared jobs, flexible time and home-based work so that parents can spend more time with their children.

In answer to a question from the audience, Mrs. Sauerbrey admitted that she had not good answers for the continual flood of violence and material with a sexual content that is delivered via the television and the movies. Boycotts can cause changes, she noted, stressing that solutions must come from society and not from government.

Clark was less diplomatic. In a brief statement he said that trying to protect and defend the family is important because there is an attack on the family that is unprecedented.

Lack of a traditional family structure with both parents in the home is at the root of many social problems, including criminality, Mrs. Sauerbrey had noted.

Internet problems
continue in morning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Internet problems are continuing. A connection between the cable company Amnet and Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. (RACSA) were non-existent early today, and A.M. Costa Rica was late getting to readers as a result.

Today is the second day with such problems. Tuesday the server connection went down about 2:30 a.m., but well after the newspaper was posted for the day.

Early Thursday the connection crashed just as the newspaper was being posted.

The interconnections of the private Amnet and the public RACSA make it difficult to assess blame.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for RACSA said Wednesday that the company could not send out e-mail messages warning of outages or explaining about problems because such messages would be considered illegal spam under existing law. However, the company does have a policy of reimbursing customers with additional free Internet time if they complain about outages.

Taxi drivers beat up
suspect in robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A robber stabbed a taxi driver early Wednesday and left him bleeding. But the man, Juan Badilla Ledezma, managed to call other drivers who not only responded but found a suspect.

In all some 15 taxi drivers administered a beating to the suspect with sticks and kicks. The robbery happened in Curridabat. Police arrived to break up the near-lynching, and both the taxi driver and the 32-year-old suspect, identified by the last names of Cáceres Urrutia, were hospitalized.

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Venezuela's Chavez Blamed U.S. for recall effort
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. _ The State Department is "categorically" rejecting renewed charges by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that the United States supported the 2002 coup against him and is trying to oust him again by backing a recall referendum on his rule.

Chavez and the Bush administration have been trading criticism for some time. But U.S. officials say the Venezuelan leader took the feud to a new level in a speech Tuesday in which he said the United States was giving financial backing to both the recall drive and what he termed "acts of conspiracy" against his government.

Chavez reiterated his long-standing charge that the United States supported the April 2002 military coup that briefly removed him from office, but also said the Bush administration was responsible for deaths of 19 pro and anti-government protesters in street clashes that preceded the overthrow.

At a news briefing in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he "categorically" rejects the Chavez charges which he said are "just plain not true" and said the Venezuelan leader was resorting to such tactics as a diversion from the recall movement. 

"I think we've seen from time to time these kinds of attempts to divert attention away from the efforts that are underway amongst the Venezuelan people to exercise their constitutional rights and try to resolve the political polarization through a constitutional process," he said. "That's what's going on. One shouldn't try to divert attention with charges against the United States." 

Boucher said U.S. aid to non-governmental groups promoting civil society in Venezuela is provided "very openly" and is for the benefit of democracy, not to support any particular political faction.

He said dozens of pro-Chavez political party members and several of his parliamentary allies have benefited directly from U.S.-funded training and visitors programs. 

Relations between the United States and Venezuela, a leading U.S. oil supplier, have been strained by among other things, Chavez' close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and embrace of Saddam Hussein in a visit to Iraq four years ago. 

The United States strongly supported Organization of American States mediation efforts in Venezuela's political crisis last year that led to the referendum effort, but insists it is not taking sides on whether Chavez should remain in office.

More than three million Venezuelans are reported to have signed recall petitions, and the country's National Elections Council is expected to announce by the end of this month if the petitions are valid.

Chavez' current six-year term runs until 2006, but if the recall effort is upheld, there would be a vote on his continued rule within in a few months.

On a Caracas visit earlier this week, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Peter DeShazo urged the electoral council not to use technicalities to invalidate recall petitions. 

In his Tuesday speech, Chavez said the U.S. diplomat had been there to support the recall and said the true leaders of the Venezuelan opposition are "in Washington." 

Diplomatic efforts over Haiti continue as military aid ruled out
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Wednesday continued intensive diplomatic contacts on Haiti's political crisis. Administration officials continue to reject military intervention to put down the violence, but also say the United States will not allow Haiti's elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be driven from office by armed gangs. 

Officials here are continuing to downplay talk of intervention in Haiti, saying U.S. efforts remain focused on applying as much political pressure as possible on Aristide to implement the peace plan of the Caribbean grouping, CARICOM.

The Haitian president himself has asked for outside help in dealing with the widening rebellion against his government. 

But at a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said this would only be appropriate when and if Aristide lives up to his commitments under the peace plan, and demonstrates that his government has the political will to support the rule of law.

Boucher said much of the violence in Haiti is being created by gangs once aligned with Aristide, and that it is "critical" now that those who supported these groups take the lead in renouncing violence and working for political dialogue.

"We're not asking anyone to negotiate with the thugs or the gangs that are on a rampage here," stressed Boucher. "But those who had been their sponsors in the past, those who had armed them, those who had fomented this violence need to take a clear stand against it. And the government, with the police, has the opportunity to take steps against these armed gangs, if the police are acting in a professional and responsive manner. So, there are steps the parties need to take, the government needs to take, and the first and foremost problem 

here is for the government to live up to its responsibilities."

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday "there is no enthusiasm" in Washington for sending in military forces to put down the violence. 

But along with his Caribbean and Canadian colleagues, Mr. Powell has raised the possibility of committing outside police to Haiti to back up a political deal reached between Mr. Aristide and the opposition.

Secretary Powell spoke by phone with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Wednesday. De Villepin has said France has troops in its Caribbean territories that it could deploy as peacekeepers. But, the foreign minister says nothing is possible unless there is progress toward ending the violence and re-starting a Haitian political dialogue.

The United States sent troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide to power after his ouster by the military.

Though U.S. officials have been critical of his performance in office, a senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said the fact remains Aristide is the elected president of Haiti. He said the United States "is not contemplating any outcomes" in which he is "kicked out of office" by force.

Under the CARICOM plan endorsed by Washington, Aristide would be allowed to serve out his term which expires in 2006, but would share power with a new prime minister and a broad-based advisory council that would arrange for new national elections.

Haiti has been at a political stalemate since parliamentary elections in 2000 that Aristide opponents say were rigged to favor the president's party. 

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Marine scientists urge protection of deep-sea coral
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Marine scientists and biologists from 69 countries are calling for governments and the United Nations to protect deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems from commercial fishing.

A press release issued Tuesday says the proclamation signed by 1,136 scientists, more than have supported any other specific marine environmental issue, signifies unprecedented concern by experts in marine sciences and conservation biology.

The statement was released concurrently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle, Wash., and at the meeting of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala, Lumpur, Malaysia. The statement was also released in Santiago, Chile, and in Madrid, Spain.

The scientists report that thousands of species live in the cold-water coral forests and reefs recently discovered by deep-sea researchers in scattered locations around the world. Even before these underwater environs are found, the scientists say deep-sea coral and sponge ecosystems are being destroyed by commercial fishing, especially bottom trawling. Trawls, huge nets with steel weights dragged across the seafloor to catch 

species such as shrimp, cod and orange roughy, smash corals and sponges and rip them from the seafloor.

Elliot Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the science of marine conservation, said in a 1998 study that bottom trawling has impacts similar to forest clear cutting. Because deep-sea corals are so slow growing, they'll take centuries to recover. Norse said many corals and sponges contain chemicals that could become medicines for treating high blood pressure, chronic pain and cancer.

"About 98 percent of the oceans' species live in, on or just above the seafloor," he said. "Many of them — including ancient deep-sea corals and sponges — haven't even been discovered yet."

In their proclamation, the scientists urge the United Nations to establish a moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas, and urge individual nations and states to ban bottom trawling to protect deep-sea ecosystems wherever coral forests and reefs are known to occur within their Exclusive Economic Zones.

The scientists' statement and all the signatures can be found at the following Web site: http://www.mcbi.org/DSC_statement/sign.htm

FAA may issue new rule on aircraft fuel tanks
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Aviation Administration may require airlines to install new systems to prevent fuel tank explosions on new and existing large passenger jets.

The FAA said Tuesday that it is considering issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking later this year requiring flammability reduction systems on certain Boeing and Airbus models. Some 3,800 planes already in the U.S. fleet manufactured by Boeing or the European consortium Airbus would have to be retrofitted with the new system over a period of seven years. 

Also, new production airplanes as well as new models such as the Airbus A-380 and Boeing 7E7 would be required to have the new systems. The new system "could eliminate up to four accidents 

over the next 25 years," according to the FAA.

"The FAA has issued more than 60 directives to eliminate fuel tank ignition sources, but we must do more," said FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey. "Our proposal would require a new type of equipment that would close the book on fuel tank explosions."

Center wing fuel tank explosions, including the 1996 TWA 800 accident, have resulted in 346 fatalities, the FAA said.

In 1996 TWA Flight 800 exploded on a summer evening off the beaches of Long Island, under suspicious circumstances. The cause and the subsequent investigation are controversial. Some independent investigators do not believe that the fuel tank was responsible for the crash. See stories that we have published HERE and HERE.

Jo Stuart
About us
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