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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2002
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Street children transformed into ordinary teens
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

They were society’s rejects. The street children of San José. They generated a feeling of contempt, of pity, perhaps of fear. 

When Gail Nystrom began trying to help street children she saw a mass, a swirl of individuals, a cracked-out mass. But soon she began to separate out the individuals.

Ms. Nystrom of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation went to the streets with her four-wheel drive vehicle to pick up youngsters to make sure they made appointments with psychologists and medical workers. 

The children frequently did not make their appointments, preferring instead the addiction of smoking a 500-colon rock in a crack pipe, sometimes in full view of passerbys. Children as young a 8 years were so occupied on San José's south side.

But then one day the individuals began to stand out. The personalities surfaced as Ms. Nystrom took the time to learn the names and the personal histories

Among them was a young man, Daniel Esteban Figeac, and a young women, Mariela Obando Gomez.  They had been pretty well written off by society as they eked out a living from shelter to shelter to where adults did not go.

Then one Friday Ms. Nystrom saw the pair huddled down on Avenida 14 in front of a shelter that had closed for the weekend. She knew that there would be no help for them until Monday at the earliest, so Ms. Nystrom took a gigantic step for a social worker.

She invited the two to stay with her at her foundation in Ciudad Colon, west of San José. She said she was terrified. She feared the children, yet she feared more what might happen to them. She applied what she called "unconditional love." "There is nothing a kid can do that will make me not love him," she said this weekend.

Children had been at the foundation before, but not to live. When shelters downtown had to close down last October, Ms. Nystrom used to let the youngsters come by for food and a shower, but not to live.

Before the dust settled, Ms. Nystrom had 10 street children living full-time at the foundation quarters, something she calls a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job. And that is on top of her day job of running a school for students with learning problems.

She said she did not sleep the first week. But unconditional love does not mean there are no rules, and the youngsters have to do the chores, refrain from drugs and conduct themselves as responsible teenagers.

Getting the youngsters to agree to the rules did not present a problem, she said. One boy threatened, "If you don’t take me to the foundation I’ll sniff glue until I die."

Ms. Nystrom had set up a display promoting her foundation at a picnic for the Association of Residents of Costa Rica. With her were Daniel and Mariela.

"Do  you remember me," Mariela asked a reporter. He didn’t. There was no way he could relate this bright, pleasant young woman to the sullen, drugged-out form wrapped in an oversized coat some months before. She had spent six years on the street from the time she was 8-years-old.

Nor was the transformation of Daniel into an artist-in-training anything less than a surprise.

"They changed my life," said Ms. Nystrom, who still is struggling with the finances and the logistics of having 10  (sometimes 12) youngsters move into the foundation quarters full-time. She has three of her own children at her house nearby.

Mariela, 16,  is going to high school studying the usual courses, including English. She needs books and gym shoes. She has let her hair grow, and it is now braided, making her look more adult. Daniel is getting deeper into his art, which he labels surrealistic. Salvador Dali, the great Spanish painter, is his idol.

At the foundation the youngsters sleep on mattresses on the floor. They need beds, among other items. The investment in the children runs about $100 a day, she said. Ms. Nystrom hopes that soon some of the youngsters will be able to give workshops against 

Mariela Obando Gomez
. . . and her delicate braids


Gail Nystrom
. . . changed her life

A.M. Costa Rica photos
Daniel Esteban Figeac explains the foundation to a visitor at picnic

drug addiction and thereby earn money of their own. She is seeking sponsors for individual children.

Ms. Nystrom, who is not a naïve newcomer, still beams when she thinks of how she has made a big dent in the street children problem.   "It’s a miracle. . . . It’s like My Fair Lady," she said.

The youngsters themselves say that there are no longer children on the streets of the capital. Both Daniel and Mariela said that at no time were the number of children more than about 35 or 40. It is just that the children roamed all over the capital, said Ms. Nystrom, thereby giving the impression of more  individuals. Some estimates ranged to 150.

With her effort and a couple of other programs, the street children have vanished, and it didn’t cost the government anything, said Ms. Nystrom. 

She beamed as she watched the two youngsters engage in a bit of horseplay at the picnic. "They’re just like normal teens," she said.

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U. S. Democrats here rip Bush and his 'axis of evil'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If George Bush felt his ears burning Monday, he can credit Democrats Abroad here who roasted the U.S. president in an informal discussion of the U.S. military effort.

The expat Democrats always have an informal discussion at their monthly meeting, but the tone Monday was strongly anti-Bush, strongly anti-war and strongly concerned about what they saw as troubling trends in U.S. policies.

Only a minority of the roughly 50 persons at the meeting spoke, but no one seemed to dissent from the statements expressed.

Particularly upsetting to Democrats was Bush’s characterization of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil." "We have to stop talking about it as evil," said one Democrat.

"It implies that we are all good," said group President Jerry Ledin. But the Democratic standard-bearer in the 2000 elections took a hit, too: "Al Gore couldn’t climb on fast enough to the ‘axis of evil,’" said Ruth Dixon. 

"We have become an irrational country," another member said of the United States.

Perhaps remembering the events leading up to Vietnam, the Democrats, mostly of that generation, expressed concern about "the semantic nightmare" of Bush’s speeches and the escalation of language, particularly the polarization of the world into "good" and "evil." 

The prospect of a new war in Iraq, as has been predicted by Washington sources, hung heavy over the room. A recent U.S. poll found that 56 percent of the people said partisan politics was not important, said Ledin, and "That is deadly for Democrats." The 
 

party hopes to recapture the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall elections.

The speakers also suggested that expats here had a special vantage point being outside the United States. Many Americans are not aware of what is going on, said one member.

The attacks of Sept. 11 were a shock and the desire for vengeance "is understandable if not excusable," said another member. But there did not seem to be much hope that U.S. policy would change from promoting war to more peaceful efforts.

The speakers suggested that Bush needed an enemy, particularly a geographical country as an enemy, to justify heavy expenditures in the Star Wars antiballistic missile program. Another derided an Iraqi pro-democracy group in London as a small number of people being supported by the United States. Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, which is rapidly turning into a focal point for internal conflict, was cited as a typical result of U.S. country building.

"Where is the anthrax killer?" one member wanted to know. We can’t even get a guy who’s within our own country."

Another dismissed Osama Bin Laden, the man Bush blames for the Sept. 11 attacks, as an unimportant figure now on the run.

"We are a very diverse and caring organization. We’re Democrats," said Ledin, as he ended the discussion.

The discussion at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica was unusual in that reports from the United States suggest that such outspoken dissent, even among Democrats, is not as strident there and that much discussion has been suppressed as a demonstration of patriotism.

Politicians facing backlash if they do not change, insider Solís says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican politicians will face a "tremendous backlash" in the next few years if they continue being arrogant and fail to heed the lessons of the last election and fail to put forward solid ideas.

That was the message of Luis Solís, a political science professor and the new director of communications for the Partido Liberación Nacional. He is foreign minister designate.

He said that Costa Ricans channeled their unhappiness with the traditional political parties by voting for the Partido Acción Ciudadana and its candidate, Ottón Solís, in the first round of elections Feb. 3.  Unless traditional parties change, "I don’t want to think of how bad it will be," said Solís. 

He said even now his party was changing to accommodate the enthusiasm that Ottón Solís captured. Among other maneuvers, Liberación is setting up locations where volunteers can work to help the party. Such volunteer efforts contributed to Solís, the candidate, grabbing nearly 24 percent of the vote Feb. 3. Civil society is demanding more participation in  politics, Solís, the professor, said.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Yvette Karl shows off Democrats Abroad umbrellas the organization is selling for 2,000 colons to raise funds.
Solís was the speaker for the monthly meeting of
Democrats Abroad Monday. He spoke months ago,  long before the presidential elections, and predicted that Solís, the candidate, would get only about 8 percent of the votes.

He said that his party’s campaign thrust had been erratic and flawed. Now, he said, his party was stressing citizen participation, the knowledge of the  party and nature in the five

Luis Solis
weeks that lead up to the April 7 voting.

Ottón Solís attracted enough of the vote to throw Liberación’s Rolando Araya and Partido Unidad Social Cristiana’s Abel Pacheco into the runoff vote. No candidate got the constitutionally required 40 percent to win outright Feb. 3. But Pacheco got nearly 38 percent, some 10 points more than Araya.

The election still is not sealed, said Solís. He predicted that many of the supporters of Ottón Solís would come back to the Liberación Party. And he predicted that his party would endeavor to punch holes in what he said was the simplistic solutions being offered by Pacheco.

Such a "campaign of ideas" would open a new stage in Costa Rican politics, he said. Still, he admitted, to work with perceptions is difficult, and the perception of the public is that Pacheco is an outsider and a man of the people, something Solís said is 180 degrees from the truth.

Afterwards, Solís said that U.S. campaign guru Dick Morris paid two visits to Costa Rica to advise Liberación, but he said that Morris had nothing to do with a negative campaign his party mounted against Ottón Solís for the two weeks before the election. Morris is known for his negative campaign efforts. 

Solís, the candidate, was hit with charges of failing to report income for tax purposes and that he kicked a family out of a home after they failed to pay a debt they owed him.

The candidate will have his turn to talk to Democrats, too. The organization announced that Ottón Solís will be the featured speaker at a lunch March 16 in San José for a meeting of Democrats Abroad delegates from all over the world.


 
Mutt will have its day
Sunday in San Pedro

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mixed-breed mutt will have its day Sunday when the Costa Rican Society for the Protection of Animals presents its fifth annual Canine Festival.

The event includes contests for dogs, either mixed breed or purebreds. The group even promises a king and queen of the festival, along with raffles, prizes and exhibitions.

While attempting to keep a straight face, sponsors also promised a flea market. There also will be dogs for adoptions and a health center for dogs.

A professional dog trainer will be there to provide tips and strategies for keeping that pet in line. Attractions for children also are promised.

The event begins at 10 a.m. at the Plaza de Deportes Roosevelt in San Pedro in front of the Escuela Roosevelt.  Information is available in English at 228-2397 and 296-6356. Spanish information is at 255-3757.
 

Outcry is building
over new kidnapping

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — An international outcry continues to build over the kidnapping of a presidential candidate by leftist guerrillas while she was travelling Saturday toward a former rebel zone now being attacked by government troops. 

The kidnapping is being characterized both domestically and internationally as an attempt by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, to undermine next May's presidential election.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana denounced the kidnapping of candidate Ingrid Betancourt and accused leftist guerillas Monday of trying to undermine democracy. He said, "Kidnapping a presidential candidate, kidnapping members of Congress, and kidnapping ordinary Colombians is like a kidnap of democracy."

Pastrana, who spoke in the southern city of Neiva, went on to call for Ms. Betancourt's immediate release.

These calls were repeated Monday by the European Union. In a statement read here Monday by the Spanish ambassador, Yago Pico de Coanya, the EU condemned Ms. Betancourt’s capture and also warned that the incident could affect May's presidential election. Amnesty International in London also issued a statement urging that Ms. Betancourt not be harmed, and called for her release.

Ms. Betancourt and her campaign manager were seized by FARC guerrillas Saturday while travelling overland in southern Colombia near the former guerrilla enclave. They were trying to reach the town of San Vicente del Caguan which had just been retaken by government troops after Pastrana dissolved the rebel safe haven on Wednesday and broke off peace talks with the FARC. 

Pastrana acted after FARC guerrillas near the enclave hijacked a commercial plane Wednesday and kidnapped a senator who was on board. The demilitarized zone was created in late 1998 as a precondition for holding peace talks with the FARC.

Government authorities are examining the authenticity a FARC communique signed by a rebel leader confirming the guerrillas are holding Ms. Betancourt. The statement said she was seized as part of the FARC's policy of obtaining hostages to exchange them for imprisoned guerrillas. 

Ms. Betancourt, a former senator who is running for president as head of an independent party, was warned Saturday by authorities it was unsafe to travel in the region. But she told reporters before setting out from the southern city of Florencia that she wanted to show support for the people living in the former rebel enclave.

Ms. Betancourt was one of four presidential candidates who visited the rebel zone early this month to meet with the guerrillas. A critic of the rebels, Ms. Betancourt also denounced corruption and inequities in Colombian society.

Formerly married to a French diplomat and well known in France for a book she published last year, the 40-year-old candidate was running far behind in the polls. 

Don’t go there,
U.S. tells citizens

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Department of State issued a public announcement Friday cautioning that "the security situation in Colombia has worsened in the aftermath of the collapse of peace talks" between the Colombian government and armed rebels. Because of the "likelihood of increased terrorist violence in Colombia," the State Department said, U.S. citizens are warned to "avoid all travel to Colombia" at this time.

Tax lady is here

A representative of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the tax guys, will be at the U.S. Embassy in Pavas from today through Thursday to help U.S. citizens prepare their 2001 federal income tax return, said an embassy announcement. The representative, Bobbette Abeyta, is available by appointment at 220-3939, the main embassy number.

Bush sanctions trio
of drug countries

By the A.M. Costa Rica wries services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush Administration says it was waiving U.S. narcotics sanctions against Afghanistan and Haiti but keeping them in place against Burma. The decisions were announced Monday under a new approach to the U.S. government's annual drug-certification program. 

The Bush Administration says neither Afghanistan nor Haiti moved effectively against drug producers or traffickers last year, but it has nonetheless decided to continue U.S. aid to those countries, as a matter of U.S. national interest. 

A 1986 act of Congress requires a cut-off of most forms of U.S. aid to major drug producing and transit countries if the President certifies they have failed to cooperate with U.S. anti-drug efforts. 

But it also provides for waivers in cases where the President deems it to be in U.S. interests to continue aid despite a negative finding on a country's anti-drug performance. 

Announcing the results of the latest annual review of compliance, Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs said the administration was seeking a waiver for continued aid to Afghanistan, despite near-record Afghan opium production in 2001. 

He stressed that the U.S.-backed interim Afghan administration of Hamid Karzai was only in place for the final few weeks of 2001 and that its anti-drug efforts have yet to be judged. 

"This is a judgment with respect to action that occurred in Afghanistan last year, during which the Taliban was the controlling authority of the battle for the future of Afghanistan was underway on Afghan territory," he said. "The Bonn declaration, the creation of the interim authority, all occurred at the end of the year. This is not a judgment with respect to the current administration in Afghanistan. It is a judgment with respect to the past." 

Beers said the ousted Taliban leadership nominally banned poppy production but "did nothing" to diminish or discourage the drug trade. 

The Karzai government has issued a similar decree and according to Beers has taken "important first steps" to curb opium output, though he described its efforts as "a work in progress." 

In the case of Haiti, the official said while the government has not done enough in the anti-drug field, including curbs on money-laundering, it is important for the Caribbean nation, the poorest state in the hemisphere, to continue getting U.S. aid. 

Burma was the third nation cited, among 23 drug-producing countries under review, for "demonstrably" failing to make adequate anti-drug efforts. But no waiver was extended to the Southeast Asian state, with which the United States has few official dealings and provides little direct assistance. 
 

Botched holdup
sparks big search

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six armed men with masks held up a bus terminal in Puente Salas de Barva about 9 a.m. Monday, and a major police search effort followed.

The men got no money and then fled in a vehicle that police found in a coffee plantation a short distance away. Eventually four men were detained, and police think that they had something to do with the attempted robbery. 

Not far from the vehicle police found a body of a man later identified by the last name of David. They said he had testified in a legal proceeding the week before against a man named Jason González.

Gonzáles is a much wanted man in Costa Rica, so police pulled all the stops and brought in helicopters and dogs to search the coffee fields.

A police official suffered the loss of fingers on the left hand when he accidentally put his hand in the path of a propeller blade. He was hospitalized as doctors tried to reattach the fingers.
 

Canada dumped tomatoes
Commerce Department finds

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Imports of greenhouse tomatoes from Canada were dumped on the U.S. market, the U.S. Commerce Department has found.

In its final determination announced last week, the department estimated that dumping margins ranged from 1.5 to 18.2 percent.

Imposition of antidumping duties requires final affirmative determination both from the Department of Commerce that dumping occurred and from the U.S. International Trade Commission  that the imports injured or threatened U.S. industry. The commission’s final determination is expected in April.

Dumping is the import of goods at a price below the home-market or a third-country price or below the cost of production. A dumping margin is the ratio representing by how much the fair-value price exceeds the dumped ratio.


 
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