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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 37
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A.M. Costa Rica/Vance Richardson
Sunset over the waves at Dominical beach on the central Pacific coast.

 
Civil registry employee caught in bribe sting
By Clair-Marie Robertson
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An employee of the naturalization section of the Registro Civil has been caught up in a sting operation where officials allege he took a bribe.

The man, identified by the name and age of Hernández, 39, works in that section of the registry where foreigners must go to obtain Costa Rican citizenship.

A law enforcement spokesman said officials were alerted to a problem when a woman from Puerto Rico claimed she had been asked for a bribe by a worker in the department. The money would expedite her application, which must undergo a long process, she told officials. The woman was not further identified.

A source close to the registry said that the woman was Peruvian, not Puerto Rican, but added that the woman claimed she did not have the cash when she was first approached. She made arrangements for a payment of the bribe to take place Friday.

In the meantime, she approached law enforcement officials, and a judge and investigators from the Sección de Fraudes of the Judicial Investigating Organization became involved.

She returned to the Registro Civil with 100,000 

colons in currency marked by a judge and delivered the cash to the person who had solicited the bribe. The amount is about $216.

Law enforcement officials had little more information on the case Monday. However, the Registro source said that the judge and investigators waited outside the building Friday and moved in as soon as the women reported that the bribe had been paid. The source said the man was jailed for three months of preventative detention while the case is investigated. 

The Registro Civil, which is just west of Parque Nacional downtown is not to be confused with the Registro Nacional in Zapote where land titles and automobile registrations are kept. The Registro Civil is part of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, the fourth branch of Costa Rican government.

At the Registro Civil Costa Ricans when they turn 18 get their cédula de identidad. Births, deaths and marriages are recorded here. From this information a list of eligible voters is developed.

Another source said that the way the registry is set up, any improper handling of paperwork as a result of a bribe would require the cooperation of at least two people. More than a dozen work in the Opciones y Naturalizaciones section where the arrest was made Friday.

 
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Adverse reactions claimed
in cancer experiment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than half the Guanacaste women who are participating in an experiment to find a vaccine against cancer of the cervix have shown adverse reactions, according to a lawmaker.

In addition, some women have died, although that cannot be attributed to the experiment, he added.

Four of the women have suffered adverse reactions that are serious, the lawmaker said.

The issue came up Monday when Alberto Sáenz, executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, appeared before  a legislative committee. He was adamant that the Caja, which operates the nation’s hospitals, had nothing to do with the experiment.

The person asking the questions was Humberto Arce of the Megacomisión de Asuntos Sociales. Arce said that according to his data, of the 1.032 females vaccinated, 539 have shown adverse reactions. He said a series of complaints have been received in his office.

The Caja did not participate in the experiment because the work is being done by a private firm, said officials. The U.S. National Cancer Institute is involved, and Guanacaste has some of the highest rates of uterine cancer in Costa Rica.

The experiment has the blessing of the Ministerio de Salud, which has signed an accord with the institute. The study is the largest of its kind in the world. An initial announcement in July said that 22,000 women would be vaccinated. They are between the ages of 18 and 25.

The project costs $2 million a year.

Scam in sale of two lots
alleged by investigators

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 32-year-old man mortgaged and then attempted to sell to two different persons two  building lot that he did not own, according to the Judicial investigating Organization

The man held himself out to be the owner of two building lots in Urbanización Quizarco in Heredia, officials said. Two persons say they gave down payments to the man, including a would-be buyer who became suspicious when the man did not show up to receive the balance of the cash.

In all, one woman gave the man two payments of $5,000 each and a check for $16.000 officials said.

Investigators arrested the suspect when he showed up at an appointment arranged to complete the payment to second buyer, officials said. The arrest was made in the center of Heredia. Agents said they confiscated an altered identity card. In addition, agents said that investigators in Cartago have a complaint relating to two mortgages for $65,000 that had been taken out on the properties without the knowledge of the true owner.

Mixed-breed dogs
will have their day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dog lovers are invited to attend a festival that will take place Sunday, March 6.  The "VIII Festival de Canes," is dedicated to helping mixed-breed dogs, which are known as "zaguates" in Costa Rica. 

The event has been organized by the Asociación Nacional de Protectora de Animales, and all funds raised will go towards developing programs of education for caring about unwanted dogs. 

The event will begin at 9 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. It is being held at the Plaza de Deportes Roosevelt in San Pedro de Montes de Oca. The field is south of the Outlet Mall there.

Dog owners will be able to enter their pets into competitions for best dressed and the most talented. Prizes will be given for dogs who most resemble their owners. There will also be the crowing of the king and queen of zaguates. 

The adoption center will be open for those who want to adopt one of the 40 dogs that need to find a good home. A reasonably priced veterinary service will also be available. The association will also have a stall where t-shirts with their slogan "Don't be racist, adopt a mixed breed dog," can be purchased. 

Gasoline consumption
rises less than expected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuel consumption in Costa Rica rose by 2.33 percent during 2004, about half what officials expected. This is according to sales statistics released by the Refinadora Costarricense de Petroleo.

In 2003 a total of 14,985,033 barrels of gasoline were sold. In 2004 a total of 15,335.026 were sold. The growth in super and regular gasoline sales were 1.48 percent compared to 2003. Diesel consumption grew by 5.09 percent.

Liquid petroleum gas consumption was up by 7 percent compared to 2003. A statement by the refinery said that this was because of changes in habits of the Costa Rica population, who now mostly use gas to cook. 

"We initially predicted that fuel consumption would increase by 5.7 percent in 2004, but after we closed the year the figure was only 2.34 percent. This is because international prices have directly affected the Costa Rica market. It is also because of the international campaign to save fuel," said Litleton Bolton, president of the state-run refinery. 

Hunter S. Thompson kills self

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

ASPEN, Colo. — Hunter S. Thompson, 67, an idol to young would-be writers, died Sunday when he shot himself in the head at his home in nearby Woody Creek.

Thompson was the author of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and spent much of his life trying to live up to the drug-laced image of the novel’s protagonist. He pioneered the so-called gonzo style of journalism, which is a mix of fiction, fact and first-person narrative.

Despite these techniques, Thompson also could be an accurate and detailed reporter, as he proved in many articles in Rolling Stone Magazine.

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Modest sentence in big pimping trial raises quesions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A New Jersey teacher faces 30 years in prison after being convicted in an FBI sting of getting on a plane with the intent of coming to Costa Rica to have sex with minor girls.

Another U.S. citizen, Curtis Baker, got 24 years in Costa Rican prison because he gave drugs to the underage prostitutes who flocked to his Quepos home. 

A friend of Baker, former dentist Arthur Kanev, faces charges of violating drug laws, providing drugs to minors, corruption of minors, rape and carnal knowledge. He was a media item when he was extradited from the United States.

Sinai Monge Muñoz, a woman who ran a prostitution ring and enlisted many underage youngsters in her long-running business got a sentence of eight years Monday. She was convicted of pimping, but the three- judge panel did not convict her on a related conspiracy count.

With good behavior and time served before conviction, she can be out in two and a half years. There is a chance the sentence will be modified on appeal.

The cases of the North Americans and that of one of San Jose’s most notorious pimps serves to highlight the contradictions that exist here over prostitution and prostitution of minors.

Costa Rican officials are hard on what they consider sex tourists, persons who come here seeking companions under the age of 18. Yet these same officials recognize that sex tourists seeking adult companionship represent significant national income.

For years, officials seemed to be blind to local exploitation of minors. Part of the reason can be gleaned from the evidence in the Monge trial. A broad cross-section of Costa Rican society was represented on her customer list. No names have been mentioned, mostly because of Costa Rica’s defamation laws. But a criminal judge seems to have been involved, as were soccer players, a night club owner, businessmen and 

An analysis on the news

even a ranking Judicial Investigating Organization official.

The Ministerio Público has extensive tapes of conversations between Ms. Monge and clients. They also have reports of at least a year of surveillance at her place of business in San Sebastian section of San José. Neighbors said they saw official cars visiting the location frequently.

The ministry, the nation’s prosecutor, also has all of the business records generated by Ms. Monge.

However, there has not been a single arrest of a client who might have availed himself of an underage prostitute.

One of the young prostitutes was rewarded by the three-judge panel Monday. She was awarded 5 million colons (some $11,000) as compensation, although there has been no testimony of coercion. Other former Monge employees dropped out of the case.

Curiously, prosecutors sought only a 10-year term for Ms. Monge in the final arguments to the three judges. Also sought was a six-year penalty for conspiracy, which was rejected outright.

The strange penalty has raised the possibility that Ms. Monge has agreed to give evidence against others involved in the case. But it would hardly seem fair to convict clients for a term longer than that of the pimp.

The other possibility is that the relatively short prison sentence is a payoff to Ms. Monge for keeping her mouth shut and not dragging high officials into the trial as a diversion.

If no client prosecutions come from the Monge case, the second scenario is more likely.


 
Police move quickly to recover stolen tourist items
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers moved quickly Monday to stifle safety concerns for tourists in the La Fortuna area.

Shortly after midday the Fuerza Pública said its officers had recovered the bulk of the items stolen from some 14 Australian volunteers who were enjoying the hot springs of the area Friday. 

Meanwhile, tourism officials from the area will be meeting with security officials this week. They will ask Rogelio Ramos for more police in the area. Ramos is minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

However, the problems do not seem to be on the public right-of-ways. Officials said that nearly all of the thefts and robberies are taking place within hotels. So far this year there have been 45 robberies and thefts from tourists, amounting to some $36,000.

Police said there are two gangs dedicated to stealing from tourists.

La Fortuna is famous for the nearby Arenal Volcano.

The regional director of the Fuerza Pública, Comisionado César Esquivel, said that investigators had been following the steps of one band of thieves and had managed to identify all the members.

It was in Ciudad Quesada (San Carlos) where police were able to uncover the articles stolen from the Australian tourists. They did not identified the man 

who had them, but he was believed to be a fence for stolen goods. Ciudad Quesada, the regional administrative center, is about 44 kms. to the south, some 27 miles.

Esquivel said that there was only one case in La Fortuna of a tourist theft in the public right-of-way.

The Judicial Investigating organization contributed to the seizure of the stolen goods, officials said.

Meanwhile, police are investigating a similar case of theft from five U.S. citizens. that took place Saturday.

The minister of Turismo has expressed his concern over the thefts from tourists that took place over the weekend.  He is Rodrigo Castro Fonseca and he said that he will support decisions made by the local Camera de Turismo to ensure tourist safety. 

Because of Arenal Volcano and thermal pools the area is one of the most visited in Costa Rica.  According to officials from the Fuerza Pública based in La Fortuna, the gang took items from the  14 Australian tourists while they were visiting the thermal pools. 

Approximately $3,200 in cash was stolen as well as video cameras and even clothes. 

Fonseca said that the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo puts tourist security as its greatest priority and has signed several agreements with the secuirty ministry to ensure that visitors can consider the country a safe place to visit. 


 
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Spanish judge seeks to bring ex-Guatemalan leader from Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

MADRID, Spain — A Spanish judge has requested the arrest and extradition from Venezuela of a former Guatemalan general accused of rights violations during the country's civil war. 

Rights activists in Guatemala were elated by the news that a Spanish judge requested the arrest of Romeo Lucas Garcia, a former general who ruled Guatemala from 1978 to 1982. This was one of the bloodiest periods of this nation's decades long civil war. 

The war ended in a 1996 peace accord after some 200,000 people, mostly Maya Indians, were killed or disappeared. 

This is the second arrest warrant for a former Guatemalan official that Spanish courts have filed in the past months. Spain is also seeking the arrest of Donaldo Alvarez, who was Lucas Garcias interior minister. 

Both are sought in relation to a fire at the Spanish Embassy in 1980 in which 37 people died, including three Spanish citizens. The fatal blaze began when police clashed with peasant protestors who had occupied the embassy to denounce military massacres in their communities. 

No one was ever investigated for the incident in Guatemala. Maya activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu filed a criminal complaint in Spain in 1999. Her father was one of the peasants who died.

"We have done a lot of work to find and identify General Lucas Garcia," she says, "and I am completely certain in what country he lives. I just hope authorities there aren’t protecting him."

Lucas Garcia, who resides in Venezuela, is rumored to suffer from Alzheimer's.  Rights activists applauded the Spanish courts decision to request his extradition and determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial. 


 
Worried about assassination, Chavez threatens cutoff of his nation's oil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  President Hugo Chavez says his country would stop oil exports to the United States if there is an attempt to assassinate him.

During his weekly radio address Sunday, Chavez said Cuban President Fidel Castro warned him a week ago that Washington is plotting to kill him.

Chavez said if anything happens to him, George Bush can "forget about Venezuelan oil."

Washington has criticized Venezuelan President Chavez's populist policies and his country's close relationship with Cuba. President Chavez has accused the United States of backing attempts to oust him, including a 2002 coup which briefly removed him from power.


 
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