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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2002
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Neighbors figure that the little girl is dead
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and Jay Brodell
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Up the flank of a mountain to the south of San José in a place where no tourist ever sees they are mourning the death of a little girl.

They really donít know for sure that she is dead, but death is the general speculation. And the mourning really isnít that deep, a reflection on a place that is not yet or maybe never will be a community.

It was here in an approximation of Hell on earth that a little girl vanished Wednesday. Some people may have seen an abduction. No one took any action. 

It is healthier if you just donít pay too close attention to what is going on in this place.

The place is Los Guidos de Desamparados, and the little girl is Jessica Valverde Pineda. She still is missing, and the residents in this rough place are speculating just when she died and by whose hand.

Odelia Vindas Campos runs the little store, a "pulpería"  to where the girl walked Wednesday with the hopes of buying a treat. The woman has given different accounts to the police. She spoke with a reporter Tuesday in the small, clean and tidy home and store. 

Tuesday she said that last Monday and last Tuesday a woman was lurking about suspiciously and so was a dark-skinned man with long hair. On both days the suspicious persons were around between 10 a.m. and noon, she said. 

Three other persons have said they saw such a man on Wednesday holding the hand of the girl who was perhaps struggling to get free. No one intervened.

A variation on this story has the man talking on the public telephone as he kept hold of the child.

A third variation places the couple in a white car. A fourth variation is that no one saw anything and that those who said they did have perhaps been influenced by reports in the Spanish-language press.

If no one called police, that brings up topics that are more properly in the realm of sociology. As it stands, Los Guidos is a non-community where there is no personal security, there are no controls on what people do and there are continual sales of drugs. Police raided a drug sales outlet more than a week ago.

The local police station is about a kilometer (little more than half a mile) from the place where the girl vanished.

Daniel Ruíz is a sociologist with the University of Costa Rica. He knows the area well. In addition to a professional interest, his sister runs a school there where a few of the 

estimated 120,000 persons from 20,000 families try to learn English to get better jobs.

The people in the settlement have no roots, Ruíz agrees, because they have come from Nicaragua, southern Costa Rica, Guanacaste or other places that provide immigration to the Central Valley. Not all the area has vital utilities services, and the roads are mostly gravel with large potholes.

There is no solidarity, no religious center, no sports center, Ruíz noted. This is what is called a "marginal" settlement, one without recourses. A nearby creek, a trickle, is full of garbage and human wastes. The residents cling on to life just as precariously as the houses cling to the side of a hill below a coffee plantation.

Because of their varied backgrounds and origins the settlement has not developed that feeling of community that might have protected the girl, said the sociologist.

The police agree. Alexander Piedra Mora of the local Fuerza Publica encouraged a woman reporter to flee the area for her own safety. He agreed that the people need to develop more of a community and to depend on police action by filing complaints and by naming names.

Nobody said they saw anything when the girl vanished either because they didn't or because of the tradition of silence that permeates the area, he said.

Another theory of what happened to the girl prompted mob action Friday night. A Costa Rican resident who is suspected of inviting willing underaged girls into his home was targeted by neighbors as someone who might have taken the girl. They attacked him, and police had to intervene and put him in protective custody.

Yet on Tuesday police had not obtained the appropriate paperwork to inspect the manís dwelling to see if evidence existed as to what happened to Jessica. Some policemen were in front of the house but the presence of investigators has diminished dramatically since the weekend, in part because police have carried the search to other areas, including Jericó, La Capri and Higuito to the south.

At the home of the girl, her mother, Jessenia Pineda, tries to remain calm. She still has four youngsters to take care of and she is pregnant. The home has a dirt floor.

Ms. Pineda told a reporter that the family has no enemies. No one would take the child as vengeance. But she wants any abductor to know that there is no chance of ransom. The family has no money. She said she is afraid that unscrupulous individuals will try to extort money from her and others with the promise of returning the child safely.

Meanwhile, as a result of the chaos caused by the disappearance, her husband lost his job.  The family moved to this area from Guanacaste, she said.

Tops on wish list for street children is a television set
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some offers of help are beginning to roll in at the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation where director Gail Nystrom has taken in a group of street children under her roof.

But the foundation, featured in a news story Tuesday, still needs some basic items at its sprawling Ciudad Colon location. Tops on the list is a television set to allow the youngsters to relax. However, they will have to restrict their viewing and face a test the next day on the contents of the news shows they watch, said Ms. Nystrom.

Because the youngsters still are sleeping on mattresses on the floor, she is hoping for beds, even bunk beds. A portable tape/CD player would give the youngsters some music.

And Ms. Nystrom said she needs a new wireless telephone to replace the inoperable one she has now.

Any money donated will be subject to strict accounting and reporting, she said. Cash is needed to enhance the lives of the youngsters. For example, five volunteers and seven 
 

Casa Alianza plans to file
criminal charges
against child welfare board 
See Below

youngsters went to Puntarenas Sunday for an outing. Ms. Nystrom notes that even a quick trip to the ice cream store runs upwards of 3,000 colons ($8.65) because of the number of hungry mouths involved. A visit to the local swimming pool costs 300 colons (85 cents).

The youngsters, some of whom who have spent up to eight years on the streets, have been living at the foundation for several months because Ms. Nystrom could not stand to see them living on the streets any longer.

Tuesday there were seven youngsters at the shelter, from 12 to 19, all working on finishing their schooling.

Contact information for the foundation includes Ms. Nystromís e-mail: gnystrom@racsa.co.cr and the foundation telephone number: (506) 249-1516.
 

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Help for coffee growers among goals for USAID in new initiative
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Agency for International Development plans a new $30 million "Partnership for Prosperity" for Mexico and Central America.

That was revealed Tuesday when USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

Natsios said a new $30 million Partnership for Prosperity program for Mexico and Central America would focus on illegal immigration, the severe drop in coffee prices, drought and malnutrition in Guatemala. Coffee prices in Costa Rica were about 41 percent lower in 2001 than in the previous year.

Natsios also said the agency will increase its collaboration with the private sector to accomplish projects on a larger scale than if it only used its own resources.

 "To build a strong foundation for sustained economic growth, developing countries need peace and security, good governance, and educated, healthy workers," said Natsios. "Where these conditions exist, countries like Thailand, and many in Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe have made substantial progress, and we are proud of having helped them."
 

"Given the importance of Mexico and Central America to our economy and the wellbeing of our hemisphere, we are planning a new initiative for Mexico and Central America in [fiscal year] '03 that we call the Partnership for Prosperity," he said.  "This is a new kind of initiative, one that seeks to create alliances between our own border states and the countries of the region and that works in conjunction with the American Hispanic community, businesses, international financial institutions and foundations."

This initiative will serve several purposes, in addition to building an alliance whose resources and capabilities go far beyond any single organization, said Natsios. One of the most important is to build upon the excellent relations between Presidents Bush and Fox and engage the Mexican government on trade, environment, health, safety and immigration issues, he said.

The initiative also seeks to further Summit of the Americas goals in democracy, development, and trade. 

Among the issues this $30 million initiative will focus on directly are illegal immigration, the severe decline in coffee prices, the drought that is affecting many parts of the region, and the growing incidence of malnutrition there and in parts of Guatemala, Natsios told the subcommittee.

Casa Alianza plans to file criminal count against PANI board
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza, an organization that is an advocate for children, said Tuesday it would file criminal charges today against the board of directors of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancía, the agency that is supposed to look after youngsters.

The complaint was to be presented at 10 a.m. in the office of the public prosecutor in San José, said a statement sent out by Case Alianza.

The organization just has not completed its responsibility to protect and help the children of the country, said the release. The allegation is similar to a U.S. charge of dereliction of duty by a public official.

Even if convicted, the penalty is not substantial. Casa Alianza said that the law calls for a fine of from 20 to 60 days salary, which in the case of board members would be from $140 to $435.

Casa Alianza is unhappy because the Patronato has not supported its efforts to get more money for youngsters from the government. The release noted that Casa Alianza just won a case before the Costa Rican Supreme Court, which upheld a law that demands that the government earmark 7 percent of certain income taxes to support children.

The Patronato (known as PANI from its initials in Spanish)  has not taken any action necessary to ask for this money nor has it insisted that the government deliver the funds, said Casa Alianza. The government has maintained that it cannot afford to fully fund what the law requires. Casa Alianza has estimated the money due to non-profit organizations that help children to be in the neighborhood of $42 million.

"Instead of fighting for the money, PANI simply decided not to pay the [non-profit organizations], and, as a result, they threw boys and girls into the street," said Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza. 

"This is a significant problem for the directorship of PANI to be in the political position where instead of fighting for the children and the youth, they produce more disputes to their political party."

Harris said that if the members of the PANI board canít do their job, there ought to be changes made. He also said that the number of street children are increasing in San José and set the estimate at about 500 youngsters. 

This figure is at odds with estimates by two street children themselves and Gail Nystrom of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation who have said that the street children problem is effectively ended in San José because the bulk of the youngsters are now off the streets. That was reported here Tuesday.

The Casa Alianza release said that the criminal action would specifically name Virginia Rojas Arroyo, board president, along with the rest of the board of directors: Tatiana Salgado Loaiza, Olga Patricia Rivera Bustamante, Maria Amelia Echeverría Zeledón and Ileana Ballard Romero. The complaint also will include Néstor Cordero López, head of administration and finance for the organization, said the release.

The Salvation Army was forced to close some youth centers in October when PANI fell behind in paying for the work it had contracted.  Other organizations also had problems.


 
Dengue fever up
nearly tenfold

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The Pan American Health Organization  is sounding an alert about the resurgence of the mosquito-borne disease dengue fever in the Americas. The number of cases has increased from 66,000 in 1980 to about 609,000 in 2001, according to a press release.

Dengue fever causes fever, pain and hemorrhage in its most severe form, dengue hemorrhagic fever. More than 50 million people in 100 countries are afflicted with the disease each year, according to the statement.

"The return of dengue to the Americas is due to many reasons, including reinfestation of Aedes aegypti, lack of good, inexpensive insecticides, lack of financial resources, deterioration in prevention and control programs, disorganized growth of large cities and lack of health education," said the organization regional adviser, Dr. Jorge Arias.

No vaccine exists to protect people from exposure to dengue. The organization  is trying to lower incidence of the disease through controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The mosquito commonly breeds and flourishes in areas with home water storage and inadequate solid waste disposal methods. So the health organization recommends proper coverage of water containers, urns and receptacles, and disposal of old tires and other objects where water might accumulate.

Dengue fever has infected people on both coasts of Costa Rica over the page few years.

Photos of Sept. 11
going on world tour

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó A photo exhibit commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America will soon be sent overseas to tour the world for three years.

The exhibit, called "September 11: Images From Ground Zero," will be launched in London on March 5 and will be shown at around the same time in Manila, Abuja (Nigeria), Dar es Salaam, Rome, Islamabad, Rabat, Paris, Istanbul, Nairobi, Moscow, Damascus, Mexico City, and Kuwait. In all, 26 sets of the exhibit will be sent on tour.

The assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs,  Patricia Harrison, described the photo exhibit's 27 still shots by New York photographer Joel Meyerowitz as "quite dramatic" and emotionally stirring. Some, she said, are even graphic, showing wounded rescuers coping with the damage caused by self-proclaimed Muslim extremists who dove two hijacked airliners into the twin World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, killing more than 2,800 people, many of them foreigners.
 

Violence continues
as rebels sabotage

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó Violence is continuing here as government troops try to reclaim a former rebel enclave and to free abducted presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Early Tuesday, Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia destroyed several bridges, roads and power lines in various parts of the country, outside of the former rebel haven.

Meanwhile, government troops are continuing their march into the former guerilla enclave in south-central Colombia. President Andres Pastrana ordered the military action last week following the failure of peace talks.

On Monday, President Pastrana demanded the immediate release of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped Saturday by FARC rebels. In a fiery speech Monday, the president accused the guerillas of "kidnapping democracy."

Reports say FARC has offered to exchange Ms. Betancourt for imprisoned guerillas. The rebels have attacked government troops and blown up power lines, roads and bridges since Pastrana ended three and a half years of negotiations on Feb. 21. 

Venezuela braces
for protests today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela ó Pro- and anti-government forces are planning rival marches in Caracas today to mark the 13th anniversary of deadly food riots that rocked the country. 

The so-called "Caracazo" riots began in late February 1989, after the government of then-President Carlos Andres Perez decided to raise fuel and transportation prices. The disturbances plagued the capital, Caracas, and other major cities for several days, leaving hundreds of people dead and millions of dollars in property damage. 

Today's planned demonstration comes amid growing domestic opposition to the policies of President Hugo Chavez. He was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty, anti-corruption platform but his approval rating has plunged in recent months. 

Tuesday several newspapers ran an advertisement critical of President Chavez's decision to fire the president of the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, and most of its board of directors. 

More than 3,000 company employees took out the advertisement to protest what they see as a bid by Chavez to exert more control over the company. 

In a related development, four military officers in the span of one month have called for President Chavez to step down. The officers have expressed concern over what they say is the manipulation of the armed forces by the president. Chavez insists there is no risk of a military coup. Three of the dissenting officers have faced internal disciplinary hearings.

Tuesday's advertisement, which was run by several major dailies, denounces the president's dismissal earlier this month of Gen. Guaicaipuro Lameda and most of the board of directors of Petroleos de Venezuela. 

More than 30 of the company's senior executives had taken out a similar advertisement Monday. 

Gen. Lameda had publicly disagreed with the government's policies since being named head of the oil company in 2000. Following his dismissal, the career army officer criticized Chavez for what he called his "intolerant" and "authoritarian" style of leadership. At least four high-ranking officers in the past month have called on the leftist president to resign.

Talk about hauling
coal to Newcastle

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SEATTLE, Wash. ó Starbucks Coffee plans to enter the Latin American market for the first time later in the year, by opening its first outlet in Mexico City. The store is part of a joint venture agreement with an affiliate of a Mexican restaurant operator, Alsea. 

In addition to Mexico, Starbucks plans to expand operations to other Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The company aims at opening about 900 stores in the region by 2005. For 2002, Starbucks said it plans to open at least 1,200 new outlets globally, while it expects revenues to rise 20 percent.

Pope will visit
Guantamala City

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY ó Pope John Paul II has added a visit to Guatemala to a trip that will also take him to Canada and Mexico.

The Vatican announced Tuesday that the Pope will stop in Guatemala City July 31 to Aug. 1, to canonize the 17th Century Spanish missionary, Pedro de San Jose de Banctour.

The Pope will first travel to Toronto, Canada, in late July to attend World Youth Day celebrations and will then make a two-day stop in Mexico City to canonize Mexican Indian Juan Diego. He will end his trip in Guatemala.

Vatican officials also announced that Italian monk Padre Pio will be canonized on June 16 and Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer will be canonized on Oct. 6, with both ceremonies occurring in Rome. 


 
'Dead boy' spotted in Quepos, and police want to talk to him
Abraham Otárola Rubí
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is a strange story.  A 12-year-old boy goes to visit friends in Dominical 14 months ago. His family in Pavas gets bad news. The boy drowned while swimming, and the body could not be recovered.

The family managed the grief. That is until an acquaintance spots the boy walking on a street in Quepos recently.  Thatís when the Sección Penal Juvenil of the Judicial Investigation Organization got involved. Agents would like to talk with the boy to see what has been going on since Dec. 31, 2000, when he was reported dead.

The boy is Abraham Otárola Rubí. Two numbers are set up for calls: 295-3574 and 295-3595. Agents were particularly anxious that English-speakers be alerted to the situation because of their numbers on the central Pacific coast.


 
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