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These stories were published Monday, March 1, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 42
Jo Stuart
About us

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Pot of gold?

The unusual light rains that have hit the Central Valley in this, the supposed dry season, bring with them rainbows. This one is over La Uruca and was photographed Friday afternoon.

Comprehensive security plan has many prongs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The headlines do not reflect the fact but a continuing effort to make communities safer have been under way for more than a year.

In addition, the Fuerza Pública is using technology to stop criminals. And the old fashion system of simply putting repeat offenders into jail has been stepped up.

Friday 43 businesses in Moravia sent employees to a training program that is supposed to provide them with preventative steps they can take to avoid commercial crimes, ranging from shoplifting to robberies. That brought the total to 209 of the businesses in the Central Valley that have taken advantage of such a program.

The Policía de Control de Drogas reported over the weekend that it had arrested 53 persons during the first two months of the year, principally in San José, that’s one person a day for each day in the new year.  The anti-drug police are being assisted in their actions by citizen complaints, which are being encouraged.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería has stepped up enforcement, mainly by raids where illegal individuals might be and by tightening the northern border with Nicaragua. The crackdown, which began before Christmas, has brought criticism from Nicaragua, but local officials reply that they are detaining people who are here illegally and frequently turning up persons who are wanted. 

Also over the weekend, some 23 committees, members of the Seguridad Comunitaria, met in the Canton of Aserrí. Members of these community watch groups have been meeting periodically for the last three years, and more and more committees are being formed all over the country under the jurisdiction of the local police and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Periodically, community groups that have undergone training meet to receive signs and other symbols to place around their town. But the  program has received little notice.

Citizens in some 39 houses in the Urbanización José María Zeledón, en Curridabat have taken the unusual step of installing alarms in their homes. The alarms are linked to sirens and to all the other homes. A board with lights shows who turned in the alarm. The pilot program also was encouraged by the police but residents raised the money themselves for the project. They also noted that handicapped persons living in the area would be helped by the system.

The Fuerza Pública itself is using surveillance cameras downtown and at large public gatherings like the recent Palmares festival, to keep track of person-on-person crime. The systems have had no big successes but a series of arrests for low-level crimes continues.

With the San José central area, police have targeted repeat offenders for special treatment, and those with outstanding warrants are being picked up even though judges do not always keep them in jail. 

Officials now are about to embark on an anti-gun campaign because of the proliferation of firearms, even among the young.

Nevertheless, the major problems faced by the police would seem trivial to the average North American. One officer last week complained to a reporter that his patrol car’s battery would not hold a charge, so when he stops the vehicle he always points it downhill. The motorcycle fleet has been similarly plagued by equipment failures.

The Anti-crime programs launched by the ministry are similar to those put in place by former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani to cut down street crime in his city. The idea was to enforce the laws uniformly even at the lower levels.

Police here are aware that much of the crime, including murders, is drug related and done by persons who may not be Costa Rican. So the immigration crackdowns and the drug crackdowns inside the country are keys to this strategy. That’s true even though airport drug busts get bigger headlines.

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Automatic teller heist
ends in big wreck

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two police officers suffered injuries early Sunday when fleeing bank burglars lost control of their pickup and struck a patrol car.

The crime probably seemed easy enough. Four men pulled the truck up to an automatic teller at the Banco Cuscatlán in Moravia about 4:30 a.m.

Somehow the part of the teller machine containing money caused some problems because the burglars had to flee after setting off the bank alarm but before fully yanking the machine from the concrete wall. 

Two men on motorcycles got away. But two suspects in the pickup led police on a kilometer chase through Moravia until they saw a patrol car blocking their path. That’s when the collision happened, injuring patrol car occupants Victor Ruiz and Alexander Navarro. Ruiz may have suffered a broken leg, and Navarros suffered head bruises in the crash. Both were in Hospital Calderón Guardia.

The suspects would have taken off on foot but other patrol cards surrounded their pickup. They were identified by the last name Blanco, 22, and Arguedas, 21.

Beach community
plans blue flag fest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of Matapalo de Aguirre are so happy that their community has won a bandera azul for high environmental standards that a party is planned.

The community’s first blue flag award was the culmination of an arduous work performed by the local committee as well as the local community led by Charles Berghammer, a release said.

The community is between Quepos and Dominical on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. In celebration of their earning the blue flag there will be an official flag raising, and a fiesta with food, drinks, and music, said an announcement.

The event will be March 13.

The blue flag is much prized by beach communities and now inland communities. Environmental standards that must be met include potable water, clean ocean water, clean surroundings, recycle centers for aluminum, glass and plastic, signs which orient and educate both tourists and locals, public toilets and showers, camping areas, as well as lifeguards to protect the beachgoers, said the Matapalo release.

Matapalo Beach also is the home for the annual marine turtle festival, the release noted.
We now accept
other currencies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica.

However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system.

The U.S.-based company does all the math and either converts payment to U.S. dollars at the current rate of exchange or places the money in the newspaper accounts denominated in the correct currency.

The exchange is invisible to advertising customers who simply make payments in their own national currency.

Pay Pal is a handy, secure system that allows customers to send or receive money with a few strokes on the computer keyboard once an account has been established.

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Members of Democrats Abroad were registering voters Saturday at an event downtown. Belle Butler and Kristin Glass donned Uncle Sam hats to lend a little color to the event. Both U.S. political parties are represented here and both are trying to round up like-minded citizens overseas for the U.S. presidential election in November. The closeness of the 2000 election and the deep political division generated by the policies of George Bush demonstrate the urgency of the campaigns.

Hinkle held after U.S. reveals his fraud indictment
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Richard Hinkle, the part-time pastor who was the victim of a kidnapping in October, now is in prison faced with a U.S. federal indictment for wire fraud and money laundering.

He was arrested at his La Ribera de Belén home Friday by local investigators who acted on a request from U.S. officials based in Pennsylvania where the alleged frauds originated.

The Times-Leader, a northern Pennsylvania newspaper, said a federal grand jury indicted Hinkle on 19 counts of wire fraud and 39 counts of money laundering in connection with a five-year scheme that involved victims from the counties of Luzerne, Colombia, Lackawana, Carbon and Schuykill there. The amount is $3.5 milliion. Hinkle, formerly of the Pennsylvania town of Weatherly, had lived in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada before coming to Costa Rica.

From there, according to the federal indictment, Hinkle represented himself as CornerStone International Savings and Investment Bank, according to the newspaper.

The indictment says that he offered investors from 2 to 3 percent a month interest and operated a ponzi scheme by paying interest with new money deposited for investors. The federal indictment says that he converted funds to his personal use.

Investors made their first complaints to U.S. federal authorities in September 2001 when the interest stopped. The indictment does not determine guilt but it suggests that there is sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial.

Wire fraud implies the use of the telephone or other electronic device to take money. 

The Juzgado Penal de San José ordered Hinkle, 38, held for two months preventative detention while an extradition process takes place. 

Hinkle was the target of kidnappers Oct. 22 when he returned to his home with his family. He was grabbed in what later was described as a heavy-handed debt collection effort or an effort to 

bring him back to the United States by force.

Three days later agents raided a dwelling in Los Anonos, Escazú, and freed him. The federal government action was expected as the rationale for the kidnaping began to be made clear by those who were arrested.

Here Hinkle was the operator or owner of Brand Fashions at the Real Cariari Mall. He was believed to have made a $200,000 investment to buy out business partners in the store shortly before the kidnapping.

Investigators arrested two persons believed to be involved in the kidnapping and three others are at large.

In addition to his clothing business, Hinkle also is known to members of the expat community as a lay preacher in a Baptist assembly in San Pedro. He previously was a member of the International Baptist Church in Escazú. 

Phony doc in prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dean Faiello, the New Jersey man who pretended to be a dermatologist in New York City, has been sent to San Sebastián prison to await an extradition process.

Faiello was caught Thursday afternoon in Sámara on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula and held on an allegation that he overstayed his tourist visa. But he is the prime suspect in the death of Maria Cruz, a former patient, whose body was found under new concrete at the home he used to own in Newark, N.J. Police speculate that the woman died while undergoing treatment. Faiello has pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license. He has no formal medical training.

The New York Post reported over the weekend that Faiello said in an interview that he was afraid for his life if he returned to New York, thereby laying the groundwork for an appeal of the extradition request.

Chavez threatens force against unruly opponents
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  President Hugo Chavez has threatened to use force against his political opponents after they disrupted an international summit in Caracas with violent demonstrations. 

Chavez on Saturday warned that he would crack down on subversion after troops and opposition demonstrators clashed on Friday. Two people died and at least 41 were hurt. 

Saturday, the protesters returned to block main roads in Caracas with burning tires and vehicles. Venezuela's opposition was highlighting demands for a referendum to recall President Chavez. 

They accuse election officials of using a technicality to delay a decision on whether a 

referendum can take place.  So far they say they have collected 3.4 million signatures in support of the vote, surpassing the necessary quota. Chavez claims the opposition has used fraud to collect the signatures. 

The National Election Council was expected to report Sunday on whether enough valid signatures have been collected to support the recall vote. 

Meanwhile, leaders from developing countries wrapped up a summit in Caracas focusing on globalization and poverty. Most of the 19 heads-of-state belonging to the so-called "G15" developing countries did not attend. 

Those on hand agreed in the summit's closing declaration to cooperate in the development of their energy sectors. 

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Public security breaks down after Aristide flees
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In this capital, the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been met with shooting, looting, and many expressions of relief. 

In the neighborhood surrounding Haiti's national palace, enraged gangs still loyal to the president patrolled the streets in unmarked cars and shot randomly at local residents. Once the gangs drove off, curious people ventured out of their homes.

Some chose to make fun of their departed leader. One man shouted that Aristide was ugly and had a big nose — words no one would have dared utter in public within earshot of the national palace just a few hours earlier.

One resident who simply identified himself as a local businessman bore a wide smile. "I am more than happy," he said. "Why? Because the devil has left the country, OK?"

One elderly woman standing on her front porch said she was relieved the president had left Haiti. She said she did not feel safe leaving her house in recent days, and now she can finally go to the drugstore to get medication she needs for diabetes.

Those still loyal to Aristide were in more of a shooting mood than a talking mood.

Elsewhere, thick black smoke rose from several streets near the palace, as rioters smashed their way into shops and businesses, torching many of them once they made off with everything of value inside.

At a ransacked fire station, one man found the keys to an enormous fire truck, and attempted to make off with it.

Aristide fled into exile and a new president was sworn in as thousands of multi-national troops prepared to arrive in this Caribbean nation to halt a breakdown of law and order. Haitian officials and foreign diplomats in the capital are calling for rebels to lay down their arms.

Aristide bowed to international pressure and a rebel advance threatening his capital, and left Port-au-Prince at dawn Sunday. Shortly afterwards, Haiti's prime minister, Yvon Neptune, told journalists the president had departed to spare his country further bloodshed. "He did say that it was to avoid a bloodbath to leave office before the end of his mandate. It is with his understanding that the constitution must be respected and should be respected, and it is with the hope that the constitution not be betrayed that he decided and accepted to make such a great sacrifice," he said.

Just hours before he left Haiti, Aristide insisted he would remain as president. Late Saturday, White House officials issued a statement that said Aristide's failure to adhere to democratic principles had contributed to violence and called into question his fitness to govern Haiti.

During the past several days, pro-Aristide gangs paralyzed Port-au-Prince, erecting barricades that shut down the city and engaging in widespread looting and violence against the city's population.

Diplomats in the capital say an international peacekeeping force is expected to restore order. Neptune said they are needed to stop the violence in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in the country. "The killing, the burning of police precincts, the burning of state institutions that has to stop. And we need the cooperation of the international community. We need the presence of members of the international security community," he said.

Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre has been sworn in as Haiti's interim president. He is expected to serve until elections can be held. In 

Will he end up here?

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has been contacted as a possible temporary refuge for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the fleeing Haitian president.

The nation welcomes political refugees, but any stay by Aristide would be temporary, according to Rogelio Ramos, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, who confirmed the contact with the Aristide camp Sunday.

The exact whereabouts of the former Haitian president were unclear late Sunday, but he was expected to go into permanent exile in an African country.

his first remarks, he told Haitians to avoid violence.

Rebels holding the northern part of the country have promised to turn in their weapons now that Aristide has left the country. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, said he expects the rebels to honor their pledge. "I do think they understand as well, and I think we saw a willingness on their part to allow for an orderly change so that there would not be an attack on Port-au-Prince. There was a certain, I think, responsibility that was exercised that needs to be continued," he said.

Foley says now that Aristide is gone, a power sharing plan drawn up by the Caribbean Community can be implemented.

The plan calls for establishing a three-party commission to appoint a new prime minister and government of national unity, leading to new elections for a legislature and a new president. Haiti's political opposition had rejected the plan because it did not call for Aristide to step down immediately. But some opposition leaders said they now support the plan, since Aristide has left the country.

In Washington, President George Bush said he is sending U.S. troops to Haiti as the first contingent of an international security force. Bush is urging all Haitians to reject violence and give the constitutional process a chance to work, following the resignation.

The U.S. president said Haiti has begun a new chapter in its history, and he emphasizes the United States wants to help. "I have ordered the deployment of Marines as the leading element of an interim international force," he said.

He said the goal is to bring order and stability to Haiti. Speaking to reporters on the White House grounds, Bush called on the Haitian people to seize this new opportunity and refrain from bloodshed. "I would urge the people of Haiti to reject violence and give this break from the past a chance to work," he said.

The president's tone was somber as he spoke about recent events in Haiti. His comments were brief, focusing on the job ahead now that Aristide has left the country for a life in exile. "The constitution of Haiti is working. There is an interim president as per the constitution, in place," he said.

Bush did not talk about any possible U.S. role in Aristide's decision to leave Haiti. In a written statement, the State Department said only that the United States facilitated his safe departure.

The statement stressed consultations are underway on a U.N. resolution authorizing international support for a peaceful and constitutional transition in Haiti. It also called for countries to join the United States and contribute to the international military mission. 

U.S. shifts policy to back end to long-lasting mines
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a sweeping policy change, the United States will accelerate its efforts to end the global humanitarian problem of landmines by eliminating all of its non-self destructing landmines and by increasing funding for mine action programs worldwide, a State Department official says.

Lincoln Bloomfield is assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs and the special representative of the president and secretary of State for mine action. He told reporters Friday that the new policy "serves two important goals: a strong push to end the humanitarian risks posed by landmines, and ensuring that our military has the defensive capabilities it needs to protect our own and friendly forces on the battlefield."

The new policy, Bloomfield said, has several components:

o After 2010 the United States will use neither long-lasting or "persistent" anti-personnel nor persistent anti-vehicle landmines;

o Within one year the United States will no longer have any undetectable landmines in its inventory;

o The United States will push to develop alternatives within the decade to its current persistent anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, incorporating enhanced self-destructing, self-deactivating technologies and control mechanisms;

o The administration is asking Congress to increase the budget for global humanitarian mine actions programs in the 2005 budget to $70 million; and

o The administration will lead an international effort to conclude a worldwide ban on the sale or export of all persistent mines with minor exceptions for training purposes.

Following a long review, the Bush administration arrived at its position, Bloomfield said, drawing on 16 years of U.S. experience assisting mine-affected countries around the world. Bloomfield pointed out that there have been at least 300,000 innocent victims of landmines, with some 10,000 more added annually. An estimated 60 million landmines remain deployed in 60 countries around the world, he added.

Costa Rica, which had extensive mined areas along the northern border as a result of the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1980s have finally eliminated these antipersonal devices.

The new policy, Bloomfield said, is focused on persistent landmines, those that remain active for years or decades until something or someone sets them off, almost always with tragic results.

"What we have seen, very simply, is that the landmines harming innocent men, women and children, and their livestock, are persistent landmines," he said. "Nor are these lingering hazards caused solely by the anti-personnel category of persistent landmines. We find that persistent anti-vehicle landmines are left behind following conflicts, posing deadly risks to innocent people and requiring remediation by ourselves and the many other parties engaged in humanitarian mine action."

While the new policy emphasizes doing away with persistent landmines, it conversely emphasizes the use of non-persistent landmines. "These munitions have reliable features that limit the life of the munition to a matter of hours or a few days, by which time it self-destructs," Bloomfield said. "And in the unlikely event the self-destruct features fail, the battery will run out within 90 days, rendering it inert, and these batteries always expire," he said.

There are two types of landmines: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle. But can be divided further into persistent and non-persistent. 

Jo Stuart
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