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These stories were published Tuesday, March 1, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 42
Jo Stuart
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Professor Daniel Washington leads the Costa Rican group Master Key through breathing lessons. The group worked with Washington Monday afternoon during a workshop provided by the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano. 
A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
An hour with the master and they sing better
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A popular gospel group in Costa Rica sat down to hone skills with an accomplished master singer and vocal teacher from the University of Michigan Monday afternoon.

The group, Master Key, met up with University of Michigan Professor Daniel Washington at the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano Monday as part of a series of free concerts and classes offered there by visiting experts. 

Washington, a baritone, and pianist John Ferguson hosted the events that took place over the weekend and finished Monday.  The series, known as "Soul of America," was designed to help spread the culture of American music throughout Central America.

During the final master class assembly, the five singers from Master Key listened intently as Washington guided them through breathing exercises and tone checks. Dabbin Cole, lead bass singer for the group, was very impressed by Washington. "In an hour he 

helped us become a lot better," he said.

Master Key has toured around Costa Rica, playing shows at the Children’s Museum, the Universidad de Costa Rica, and at various venues along the coasts. The group has been recording a CD for the last few months. Cole said, however, that the class would definitely change they way they thought about singing.

"We knew our mechanics were bad, that we had to figure out how to improve. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to sing within a few years," Cole said after the session. "If we listen to what he said about breathing and projecting from our chest and not or throats, we can be a lot better."

Washington and Ferguson were both pleased with the results of their work in Costa Rica. "We were able to play a few good shows and to help some talented singers down here," Ferguson said. 

Washington agreed, saying that he would like to find a way to get back to Costa Rica. He said that the country had great audiences and that "it doesn’t snow."

U.S. notes human rights problems in Costa Rica
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Costa Rican government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, The U.S. said in its annual human rights report that there are problems here in a few areas. 

More details on report HERE!

The State Department released reports on 196 nations, including Costa Rica, and  said that intense problems exist in many countries but the world is also going through an era of monumental advancement for human rights and democracy. 

In Costa Rica, the State Department said it found instances of physical abuse by police and prison guards and penitentiary overcrowding continues to be a problem.

The judicial system processed some criminal cases very slowly, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention for some persons charged with crimes, said the report, released Monday. 

Press freedom also was cited as a problem, with some journalists practicing self-censorship to avoid accusations of libel, defamation, and the associated criminal penalties involved if convicted of such crimes. 

Domestic violence was reported to be a serious problem, and traditional patterns of unequal opportunity for women remained. Abuse of children also remained a problem, said the State Department, and child prostitution was a serious problem. 

Trafficking in persons was a problem, said the report, adding that child labor persisted, in spite of government efforts to eradicate it. 

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Spring break travelers
get official warning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. State Department officials warn that students on spring break this year may be putting themselves in more danger then they realize. The warning comes as Costa Rica is expected to host more spring breakers then ever before. 

According to a statement released Monday by the department, every year hundreds of students are arrested injured or killed during international vacations. The statement says that many students will have their vacations ruined by drugs, alcohol, disorderly behavior, and preventable accidents.

Many North Americans have found that the ease of access to alcohol and drugs can have bad side affects. For students on a one-week vacation, those side affects can be very bad, said officials.

The State Department warns students to be wary of international laws, to watch how much they drink and to avoid drugs. The report says that many students are injured every year during incidents that involve alcohol.

The statement says that students should familiarize themselves with the local laws and to be mindful during their time abroad. 

Prison sentence voided
for Canadian in sailboat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Canadian man who was arrested on the high seas in a sailboat with 1,360 kilos (nearly 3,000 pounds) of cocaine received an annulment on his 12-year prison sentence.

The man, Wesley Trimble, 53, was arrested May 12, 2003. Police from three countries, inducing Costa Rica seized Trimble’s boat in Colombian waters in the Pacific. His boat, "Sin Rumbo," contained several thousand kilos of cocaine, and Trimble was found asleep.

The sailboat had last been in Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula where Trimble lived illegally for several months.

Trimble was sentenced to 12 years in prison Aug. 17 2004. During the past week, however, the Sala Tercera, the supreme court for criminal matters, annulled the original decision.

Trimble is now being held in preventative detention for the next six months while he awaits a new trial.

Continental Houston hub
wins magazine praise

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Continental Airline’s new terminal in Houston, Texas, recently received recognition as one of the best international hubs by the Airport Revenue News. 

The terminal in Houston is familiar to many North Americans traveling to Costa Rica using Continental. The airline usually filters flights into the hub in Texas and then reroutes passengers to other destinations. 

The terminal, opened in January 2005, includes several fine dining establishments and name brand clothing outfitters. The combination of these amenities, along with the overall design of the new terminal earned the terminal recognition, said a release from the airline.

Copa Airlines dumps
its oldest aircraft

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Panamanian-based Copa Airlines, retired its last Boeing 737-200 Monday, making the airline’s fleet the youngest in the Americas. 

At a ceremony held at Tocumen International Airport, in Panama City, executives from the airline waved goodbye to the oldest plane left in the fleet. The 737-200 had been part of Copa’s line for over eight years.

The move completes the executives’ plans to modernize the airline. The fleet will continue to use the more modern 737-700 and 800 aircrafts. In May, the executives plan to add the new B737-800, which will further rejuvenate the lineup. 

Copa Airlines was founded in 1947 with three domestic flights in Panama. Today the Airline is one of the largest in Central America, with service throughout the region. 

Viper Lady returns
seeking victims here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An individual who resembles the infamous Viper Lady has been seen in the downtown San José area several times during the last month.

The Viper Lady, who may actually be a man, preys on male tourists. The victims are invited for a drink of alcohol or coffee, and the Viper Lady puts knockout drops in their drink. The victim then is stripped of possessions and encouraged to surrender the PIN number of his automatic teller cards.

The Viper Lady is about 40 years old, about 5-foot 8 inches tall and about 165 to 180 pounds. The Viper Lady is well dressed, frequently in a blazer, and usually tells the intended victim that tomorrow is her birthday and she has no one with whom to share the day.

A reporter who has met the Viper Lady caught a glimpse of her briefly on the downtown boulevard a week ago.

More than one person may play the Viper lady, and several more may have supporting roles as lookout and security.

The Viper Lady periodically returns to San José, chalks up a dozen or so victims and then vanishes for periods as long as a year.

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The guaria morada Guariante Skinnerii
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Room full of orchids
a delight to behold

More than 1,500 specimen comprising 400 species of orchids were on display this weekend at the Asociación Acosteña de Orquídeología show and competition in Desamparados.

Among the exhibits was the national flower of Costa Rica, the guaria morada Guariante Skinnerii. However, an orchid Bic Greenwich, was judged to be the best of show.

The group is affiliated with the American Orchid society.

The goal of the show was mostly cutlrual, but orchids also are big business for plant exporters here.

A commentary
Can officials think clearly in considering prostitution?
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

There are several basic questions Costa Rica officials have to ask before they crusade too much against underage prostitution and its customers:

1. Does demand really encourage young women to become prostitutes, as officials have said, 
and should a crackdown just target customers.

2. Does not a society that approves of adult prostitution strongly encourage underage prostitution?

3. What responsibility does an underage prostitute and his or her parents bear for the youngster’s actions?

4. Why are officials so reluctant to take action against pimping when only adults are involved?

These questions are current because of the recent conviction of a woman who ran a prostitution ring that featured underage women.

Rosalia Gil, the nation’s protector of children, claimed that if people would not ask for the sexual services, pimps would not exist because there would be no market. In other words, if you attack the demand, the problem will go away.

Ms. Gil certainly is acquainted with the many Web sites featuring Costa Rica as a sex destination. That is called marketing. That’s the same reason nearly every prostitute here wears a cell telephone.

To suggest that prostitution springs up in response to an unmet demand betrays a basic knowledge gap about how business works. McDonalds did not appear because people were standing around demanding cheap hamburgers. The demand for McDonald’s products have been carefully created by marketing.

So, too, does demand for prostitution grow, thanks to a network of taxi drivers, telephone solicitations, parties and similar techniques.

Prostitution by persons younger than 18 years is simply the logical extension of the what exists in the adult world. If society holds up prostitution as a lucrative and encouraged occupation for an adult, is it no wonder that youngsters will want to enjoy that life earlier?

By saying officials should only target customers, Ms. Gil overlooks the fact that youngsters are active decision-makers. Officials must consider if underage prostitutes should be charged as co-conspirators, as well as their parents.

The woman who was convicted and sentenced to eight years is Sinaí Monge Muñoz. She had no difficulty in finding willing employees, including those underage. In many cases, the would-be employees sought her out.

Many prominent persons took advantage of Ms. Monge’s business, which is why Ms. Gil talks about stifling demand. But so far no official action has been taken even though prosecutors have most of the records from the operation.

Nor is there a serious official reaction to the many brothels that exist even a short distance from the judicial offices. These places are no a secret. And it is illegal in Costa Rica to accept money for sexual services performed by another person, even if that person is an adult. That’s why Ms. Monge was convicted of being a pimp.

Other operations cloak their services by claiming they are pensions or hotels. In fact, some have agents on the street handing out promotional material to likely looking prospects (i.e. old, fat Gringos).

These operations are so obvious that some North Americans maintain Web sites that list the brothels or massage parlors and rate them for attractiveness of employees, prices and similar.

Once in awhile, law enforcement raids such an establishment, makes a few arrests. But a few days later, the place is back in business. Only when someone such as Ms. Monge ends up being taped by a foreign news crew, do officials here get serious. But only briefly.

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U.S. human rights report
Majority of governments in West get good marks
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The majority of governments in the Western Hemisphere respected the rights of their citizens in 2004, although problems persist in many of these nations as well as in neighboring countries whose governments' human-rights performances were poor, according to the U.S. State Department.

Tthe State Department issued its annual "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" Monday. Begun in 1977, the reports provide a key framework that the United States and others around the world use in assessing the state of human freedom and in marshalling efforts to advance it.

The 2004 reports found that the majority of Western Hemisphere nations generally respected the human rights of their citizens, even though problems may persist in these countries. A few nations in the region, however, received poor marks from the State Department for their human-rights practices.


The 2004 report indicates that Cuba's record on human rights remained poor, and the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro continued to commit numerous, serious abuses, including denying Cuban citizens the right to change their government peacefully.

 The State Department also noted that the Cuban regime "routinely continued to harass, threaten, arbitrarily arrest, detain, imprison, and defame human rights advocates and members of independent professional associations, including journalists, economists, doctors, and lawyers."

The report said that Cuban authorities also denied citizens the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association, and restricted travel and workers' rights.


Despite attempts at improvements in a few areas, the Venezuelan government's record on human rights remained poor as well, said the State Department report. 

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, officials in his administration, and members of his political party consistently attacked the independent media, the political opposition, labor unions, the courts, the Church, and human rights groups, the report said. "Many government supporters interpreted these remarks as tacit approval of violence; they then threatened, intimidated, and physically harmed at least dozens of individuals opposed to Chavez during the year," it added.

The State Department noted that the Venezuelan government's record deteriorated in some areas, such as the politicization of the judiciary and restrictions on electronic media. The report also added that legal impunity for human-rights violations was one of Venezuela's most serious human-rights problems in 2004.


The human-rights record of the Dominican Republic also remained poor in 2004, the State Department found. The report pointed out that although the Dominican government made advances in improving respect for human rights and worker rights, serious problems remained, including child labor and trafficking in persons.

Other serious problems, the State Department noted, included violence and discrimination against women, child prostitution, abuse of children and severe discrimination against Haitian migrants. There were also problems with forced labor in the Dominican Republic, as well as unlawful killings believed done by security forces.


In neighboring Haiti, the government's record on human rights also remained poor. The State Department noted that various actors perpetrated numerous human-

rights abuses, particularly during the armed revolt following the resignation of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide Feb. 29, 2004.

The State Department said that there were credible reports of unlawful killings by members of the Haitian National Police, by members of the former military who, in part, forced Aristide's resignation, by supporters of the Aristide's Lavalas party, and by street gangs suspected of being paid and armed by Aristide and his supporters.

"Systematic, state-orchestrated abuses" stopped under Haiti's interim [post-Aristide] government, but retribution killings and politically motivated violence, particularly in the provinces, continued," the State Department said.

Due to Haiti's weakened police force and judicial system, legal impunity also remained a serious problem in the country.


In Colombia, there were "significant improvements" in several human-rights indicators, as killings decreased 16 percent, terrorist massacres dropped by nearly 50 percent, kidnappings fell by 42 percent and forced displacements declined 37 percent, according to Colombian government figures. Nonetheless, serious problems remained.

Even though the percentage of total human-rights abuses attributed to Colombia's security forces was low, some members of these forces continued to commit serious abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearances, the State Department report said. Also, the report said that some members of Colombia's security forces also continued to collaborate with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a terrorist organization guilty of serious abuses.

Impunity also remained central to Colombia's human-rights problems, because the civilian judiciary was inefficient, severely overburdened, and "undermined by corruption and intimidation," the State Department said. Violence (and extensive societal discrimination) against women, child abuse, and child prostitution were cited as serious problems in Colombia, and child labor was also a widespread problem.


In Guatemala, Ecuador, Jamaica and Paraguay, the governments generally respected the human rights of their citizens, but there were credible reports of unlawful killings by security forces in these nations, the State Department said.

The report pointed out that the federal governments of México and Brazil generally respected the rights of their citizens, whereas there were serious problems concerning the record of state governments in these nations. In the Mexican states of Guerrero, Chiapas, and Oaxaca, "a poor climate of respect for human rights presented special concern," the State Department said.

In these Mexican states, law enforcement officials were accused of committing unlawful killings, and there were vigilante killings during the year. Disappearances also continued to occur and kidnapping became a larger problem, with an unofficial estimate of 3,000 kidnappings during the year, some with alleged police involvement, the State Department said.

In Brazil, state police forces — both civil and military — committed many unlawful killings and killings due to excessive force, the report found. Police also were implicated in killings for hire and in death-squad executions of suspected criminals, persons considered undesirable, indigenous people and labor activists.

Despite its powers to do so, Brazil's federal police failed to act in the numerous human rights violations by state authorities, and this failure to punish perpetrators perpetuated a climate of impunity, according to the State Department.

The Western Hemisphere portions of the "State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" are posted online HERE!

Serious rights violations found elsewhere in the world
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The State Department, in its annual report on human rights, says widespread abuse continues to be a major concern in many parts of the world. The report cites countries such as China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan as nations where it says serious human rights violations are occurring. 

The State Department released reports on 196 nations, saying intense problems exist in many countries but the world is also going through an era of monumental advancement for human rights and democracy. 

The report calls North Korea one of the world's most repressive and brutal regimes, saying up to 200,000 people are believed to be in detention camps where defectors report many have died from torture, starvation and disease.

The report called China's progress on human rights disappointing, saying the government continues to arrest and detain activists.

Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of State for global affairs, said the report tells oppressive governments there are consequences for abusing human rights. 

"These reports put dictators and corrupt officials on notice that they are being watched by the civilized 

world and that there are consequences for their actions," she said. 

In the Middle East the report accuses Saudi Arabia of severe violations of religious freedom. The acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Kozak, told reporters Washington is considering sanctions on Saudi Arabia because the government rigidly mandates religious conformity. 

The report also found abuses in Iran, Syria and Egypt. 

Ms. Dobriansky pointed to recent elections in Iraq and Afghanistan as positive examples that democracy is spreading.

According to the State Department report, Sudan's human rights situation remains extremely poor. It says government forces in the troubled Darfur province routinely kill civilians.

The report says in Russia the Kremlin has taken actions to consolidate its power. It also expressed concerns about the erosion of government accountability because of media restrictions, law enforcement corruption, and political pressure on the judiciary.

In its discussion of Ukraine, the report highlights the Orange Revolution that led to the election of a new president, Viktor Yushchenko, who is expressing a strong commitment to democracy.

Jo Stuart
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