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These stories were published Friday, March 1, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Two men found dead
in separate incidents

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men identified as North Americans died in their hotel rooms under suspicious circumstances Wednesday night and Thursday.

The bodies of both men were taken to a medical examiner for autopsies.

The first of these two separate cases involved a guest at the Park Hotel on Avenida 4 between calles 2 and 4 in downtown San José. The victim there was identified as Gary Van Hussein, age unknown, who was found dead in the room he rented, No. 103, about 8 p.m., according to a spokesman for the Ministerio de Securidad Publica.

Investigators said that they thought that the death was due to natural causes even though the room in which the man was found showed a great deal of disorder as if it had been ransacked.

One officer suggested that the man may have been frightened by an intruder and suffered a heart attack.

The second death was discovered about 2:15 p.m. Thursday in the Quality Hotel Centro Colon. The Judicial Investigating Organization said the dead man, who had not been identified, was in a sixth-floor room. Desk attendants at the hotel denied any knowledge of the incident and had guards escort a reporter off the premises.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the second man also was a North American. He was found with a plastic bag wrapped around his head, and the apparent cause of death was suffocation.

In late afternoon investigators said that the death probably was a homicide. Later in the evening one agent suggested that the man might have committed suicide. He was said to be between 65 and 70 years of age.

The hotel faces Avenida 3 between calles 38 and 40. It makes up the north portion of the Centro Colon office building that faces Paseo Colon just east of La Sabana Park.

U.S. to train elite unit
to fight drugs, terror
in worried Nicaragua 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA — The United States will help the military forces of nearby Nicaragua to set up an elite anti-terrorist and anti-drug unit of about 1,200 troops.

Gen. Javier Carrión, the military chief of staff, made this announcement earlier this week. The force will include airmen, soldiers and sailors, said the general. The units will be able to move at any time, night or day, to counter a possible terrorist action or a narcotics trafficking operation, said the general, who was accompanied by Defense Minster José Adán Guerra.

The troops will be trained by U.S. military advisers. Nicaragua got its first military aid in 22 years from the United States this year and the aid will be used primarily to purchase military equipment from the United States.

In Washington, Richard Boucher, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, ducked a question on the troop training when asked by a reporter during the daily noon briefing Wednesday. He said he had not seen anything about what the reporter was asking.

There is no information on exactly how many U.S. troops will be sent to the country.

Governments in Central America are very concerned by the end of peace talks in Colombia and the outbreak of major fighting there. The United States is deeply involved in the Colombian situation because of Plan Colombia, a multi-year investment to try to stabilize the country. 

The United States sees the rebels in Colombia as a principal source of drugs being shipped north.

The United States has designated two of Colombia’s rebel groups as terrorists organizations after the Sept. 11 attack on New York and Washington. 

They are the FARC or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, established in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party, and the National Liberation Army, a Marxist insurgent group formed in 1965 that is currently in a dialogue with the Colombian government in Havana.

Gen. Carrión said the conflict in Colombia puts more pressure on the Central America states which are being turned into warehouses for drugs and weaponry. Another danger is the development of private armies to defend these stores of weapons and drugs.

The general noted that the Río San Juan that runs along the Nicaraguan border with Costa Rica has become a major arms and drugs shipment point equal to that of the Caribbean coast of the country.

The use of the river for drug and arms shipments has been well reported in the press of both countries.

There is more 
Costa Rican news
further down the page


Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The Pursuit of Pleasure In All
of Its Forms

I’ve been reading Lionel Tiger’s book, "The Pursuit of Pleasure." Lionel Tiger is an anthropologist some of whose other books I read when I was studying the subject. He did what I said I was hoping to do: major in anthropology and a minor in nutrition and then study the people of China by eating my way across their country. (I wanted to prove the adage "You are what you eat.") 

"The Pursuit of Pleasure" is about enjoying food, as well as the other pleasures of the body and mind, like wonderful smells, sex, play, and being with other people, to name a few. Tiger argues that humans (and probably other animals) have a basic need to experience pleasure. We are not just pain avoiders. We actively seek out pleasure.

Learning that tourism is the biggest industry in the world supports the idea. People travel to other countries in the hopes of new, exciting and pleasurable experiences. But thinking about this made me wonder if war was the second biggest industry. Tourism and waging war have something in common. In both, hoards of people invade another country, but the course of war is violence and pain, and the course of tourism is usually friendship and pleasure. 

And now we get to Costa Rica and the reason people flock here (and return many times). I am sure it is because this little country, which has no means to wage war, offers so many avenues of pleasure — the kind of pleasure Lionel Tiger is talking about. For starters, I can’t think of another country that can offer within the course of one day, a hike in a misty pine forest, swimming in tropical waters from a sandy beach (just lying in the sun is a major pleasure for many), playing a round of golf in spring-like weather, and listening to a world-class symphony orchestra and enjoying a gourmet dinner in elegant surroundings at the end of the day. 

You might be exhausted, but you could do all of these things in Costa Rica. And almost invariably they are offered by a friendly, gracious, caring people. That certainly adds to the pleasure. 

Governments, as a rule, seem to find it easier to tolerate violence than to accept pleasure, especially if that pleasure involves sex. Thus, many pleasurable experiences are prohibited, governed, tempered or controlled, as if society were afraid that order would be disrupted if people enjoyed themselves too much. 

Even private pleasures are frowned upon. Look how shocked so many were when Dr. Joycelyn Elders suggested teaching young people to masturbate to help curb the spread of AIDS. That on top of her support of legalizing some narcotics was just too much and she was forced to resign. It is too bad, because some studies have shown that while intercourse seems to heighten one’s aggressive tendencies, masturbation seems to have a calming effect. Instead, President Bush has announced that he is setting aside something like $125 million to teach abstinence. Maybe that also will have a calming effect if he includes money to teach Cold Showers 101.

I cannot speak for other countries, but the United States is one of the most violent, and at the same time, one of the most puritanical countries in the world when it comes to sexual pleasure. The news and entertainment media tend to talk about sex and show violence. The obscenity laws are aimed at censuring what is deemed sexually repulsive or offensive or appealing to a prurient interest. There are no such laws aimed at violence ? unless perhaps, the violence is combined with sex. Although the United States is a religiously diverse culture, officially sex is a moral issue and seen as connected mainly to reproduction rather than to pleasure.

Costa Rica, nominally, is a Catholic country, although it allows religious freedom. There is no stricture dictating the separation of Church and State. Yet, in Costa Rica there are discussions on television (complete with illustrations) on sex education and prevention of pregnancy, billboards advertising the use of condoms and warning against SID (AIDS). And prostitution between adults is legal. 

The prostitutes here are often unmarried mothers who are supporting their children. They are also often lovely, educated and intelligent. One of the dumbest questions I hear people ask prostitutes is why do they "do it." That is, sell sex? Let me see, if I could prostitute my mind standing at a counter nine hours a day for say, to be generous, $20, or prostitute my body for two hours a day for perhaps 200 or more dollars, which would I choose? (when answering this question, please try to remember that not everybody thinks that sex is disgusting and equals sin). 

The more interesting question would be why do men patronize prostitutes (something they have been doing probably even before marriage was invented)? Since space is running out, I won’t try to answer that question now, but for male tourists’ pleasure, at least, prostitution in Costa Rica is legal as long as everyone is an adult and no one is being exploited. 

Gambling, also considered a vice in some countries or states, is also legal in Costa Rica. Generally speaking, I do not think the stakes are as high as they are in say, Las Vegas. Only drugs, the third member of this particular "axis of evil" is illegal here. And I wonder, if it were not for the U.S. and its concerns, if Costa Rica would not re-think the role of marijuana. It is, after all, pretty benign as mind altering drugs go, and I can speak from experience that medically, it is indeed a pain avoider.

More Jo Stuart can be found HERE

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Police get fugitive
wanted for murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police last night arrested Jason González Víquez, a young man of 20 years who is wanted for investigation in at least five murders. He was taken to the judicial facility in Heredia. 

He was the last of a group of men who were wanted in the aftermath of a botched holdup of a bus station.

Six armed men with masks held up a bus terminal in Puente Salas de Barva de Heredia 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 held them for investigation of murder and robbery. 

Not far from the vehicle police found a body of a man later identified as someone who had testified in a legal proceeding the week before against González.

An intensive search has been conducted in the area surrounding the coffee plantation by squads of police, dogs and helicopters. This is the area in which González grew up, so he had an advantage.

The circumstances of his capture about 8:30 p.m. last night were unclear. More information is expected today when police outline what happened.

Cars that are smoking
face transit checks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transit officials took to the streets Thursday seeking vehicles that put out more exhaust than allowed.

The officials grabbed about 40 of the worst offending vehicles and inspected about 90 more during the morning effort that slowed traffic.

The officials were on Paseo Colon looking for cars and buses that give off excessive smoke. This is unexpected because all passengers vehicles at least had to secure an ecomarchamo certificate late last year before they were allowed to renew their vehicle registration. Transit officials said they would carry their anti-pollution efforts to other parts of the country.

It’s tax time again
for U.S. citizens

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The time has come again where U.S. citizens have to start thinking about filing their Internal Revenue Service tax return.

The U.S. Embassy reported that it maintains a number of common forms for this purposes. Because rules change every year, so do the forms. Forms can be collected at the Consular Section weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., except Thursday afternoons, an embassy spokesperson said.

The tax forms also can be found on the Web at http://www.irs.gov. The forms generally are in PDF file format that can be easily sent to a printer connected to a home computers.

The good news is that individual tax rates (except the lowest, the 15 percent rate) were reduced 1/2 percentage point in each bracket. The new effective annual rates for tax year 2001 are 15, 27.5, 30.5, 35.5 and 39.1 percent, said the IRS. Current law provides that the rates will continue to decrease in 2002, 2004, and 2006, although congressional action could change that.

U.S. citizens who are foreign residents and earn money overseas can exempt up to $78,000 of earned income from their tax bill. This does not apply to money earned as interest, and U.S. citizens are required to pay taxes on interest earned overseas.

U.S. citizens overseas also qualify for an automatic extension for filing their tax return. They can do so later than the April 15 deadline most U.S. citizens face.

Since the tax laws have changed significantly this year, competent advice should be sought.

Woman exploiter
gets five years

A woman from the Dominican Republic was jailed for five years in Costa Rica this week for trafficking young Dominican girls from her country to Costa Rica where they were being sexually exploited, according to Casa Alianza which has been pushing for tougher enforcement of such crimes.

A second man also involved was declared a fugitive, said the child advocate organization.

The woman, identified by Casa Alianza as Maria Salazar Mejia, approx 30 years of age, was sentenced to five years in jail for trafficking minors by the Siquirres criminal tribunal, the group said in a press release.

Charges were filed against the Dominican citizen Guillermo Leal Leal and an arrest warrant has been issued for his detention, the group said. The operation had been going on since 1998.

Case Alianza gave this account:

According to the eight witnesses who participated in the trial, Salazar and Leal would offer young girls in the Dominican Republic a job as a waitress or in a hotel in Costa Rica. Most of the girls were between 14 and18 years old. They would fly them from Santo Domingo to San José where they would wait for them in the airport and then transport them to the tourist town of Quepos on the Pacific coast and to Siquirres, close to the Atlantic port of Limón. there the girls would be sexually exploited, and the traffickers would take away the girls’ passports.

Casa Alianza said that for more than three years it has been speaking out about the trafficking of children to and from Costa Rica. Apart from Dominican girls, minors from the Philippines have also been brought into Costa Rica and sexually exploited. Young women from Russia and Bulgaria have also been brought to Costa Rica as part of the sex trade, the group said.

Cubans stay inside
at Mexican Embassy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Twenty-one Cubans remain holed up at the Mexican Embassy in Havana after ramming a stolen bus through the front gate late Wednesday. 

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda says the Cubans are not seeking political asylum and will be encouraged to leave the diplomatic compound as soon as possible.

Castaneda says the trouble was started when a U.S. funded radio station in Miami, Radio Marti, took out of context comments he made recently at the opening of a Mexican cultural center in Miami. 

The foreign minister was quoted as saying the doors of Mexico's embassy in Havana are open to Cubans. But Castaneda says he declared the doors of the Miami cultural center are open to all. Radio Marti denies misquoting the foreign minister. 

The Cuban government has accused Radio Marti of what it calls a gross provocation and says it manipulated the foreign minister's comments. Radio Marti director Salvador Lew denies the allegation. He also says Radio Marti did nothing more than transmit the declarations of the Mexican foreign minister in his own voice. 

Agricultural burning
said to change climate

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Tropical biomass burning, used to clear forests or grassland for agricultural purposes, has helped double the moisture content in the Earth's stratosphere over the last 50 years, a Yale University researcher has concluded after examining satellite weather data.

Steven Sherwood, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at the institution based here, said in a press release that the increased humidity as well as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels has caused a cooling trend in the stratosphere that is now contributing to milder winters in North America and Europe. By contrast, harsher winters have resulted in the Arctic.

Sherwood said in an interview that it is now believed by researchers that the cooling of the Earth's stratosphere should change the atmospheric circulation in such a way as to reduce the number of "cold air outbreaks" where cold polar air invades Europe or North America during the winter. This would lead to milder winters at these high latitudes, but more severe winters in Polar Regions since the cold air would remain trapped there instead.

This effect is separate from the well-known overall warming effect on the Earth's surface due to greenhouse gases, although the same gases, including water vapor, causes both effects.

Sherwood, whose article appears in the current issue of the journal Science, said that higher humidity in the stratosphere also helps catalyze the destruction of the Earth's ozone layer. The stratospheric ozone layer helps protect humans and animals from the harsh rays of the sun.

In the study, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sherwood examined a combination of data from a satellite launched in the 1990s and operational weather satellite data archived at the Goddard Institute of Space Science in New York.

Military gets power
in rebel fighting

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia —President Andres Pastrana has expanded the military's power in six departments, or states, nationwide to counter a wave of attacks by the country's largest rebel group. 

President Pastrana Thursday issued a decree, which declares 19 towns in those areas to be a military theater of operations. 

The presidential decree takes effect immediately and gives the army the power to register civilians, impose curfews, set roadblocks, and regulate business hours. The decision comes as rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, intensify their counteroffensive against the government. 

Authorities say the guerrillas bombed three electricity pylons and a transmitting station near the Venezuelan border early Thursday, leaving area residents without power. Although Bogota has been spared, troops are guarding bridges and reservoirs in the capital. 

The rebels stepped up their violent campaign after the government ended peace talks with them and ordered the military to reclaim the guerrillas' southern stronghold. The decision followed the FARC's hijacking of a passenger plane and kidnapping of a prominent senator on board. 

On Saturday, the guerrillas abducted presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt as she drove to the rebels' embattled southern stronghold. President Pastrana has demanded her immediate release. 

Visa approvals soon
will consider crimes

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department will soon have another tool to check out Costa Ricans and other foreigners who apply for immigration or tourist visas to visit the United States.

According to proposed rules published this week in the Federal Register certain key employees of the State Department will be able to run background checks in the National Crime Information Center computers that is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The checks would show any arrests or convictions the individual experienced.

Until now, the criminal databases were off limits when State Department employees accepted and acted upon visa requests.  The change in the rules is believed prompted by the terrorists attacks Sept. 11.

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