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These stories were published Tuesday, March 4, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 44
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Photo courtesy of Nelson King
This photo is not from around here!

This is the scene in Toronto, Canada. Nelson King, a reader (That’s him on the snowblower), reports that the wind chill factor was -40 Celsius Sunday night. Since some residents here have been nostalgic about snow-shoveling, cars stalling, fingers freezing and water pipes bursting, we figured we would give them something to make them homesick.

Meanwhile, here in Costa Rica there is nary a snow cloud in sight.

March, the driest month of the year, has begun, and the Instituto Meteorológical Nacional, the weather bureau, says that higher temperatures and little rain will be the norm throughout the whole country. Temperatures will climb to the low 30s Celsius in the beach communities. (about 90 Fahrenheit)

April will see some rain, sort of a preview of May when the unstable atmospheric conditions that herald the rainy season will be seen again.

March also marks the beginning of the Catholic season of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday tomorrow.  March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph or San José, a church holiday here. Easter is not until April 20 this year. 

 
Some inroads in fight against violent crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica seems to be making inroads against violent crime, in part because citizen security is a priority for the current administration.

Perhaps the most visible efforts are the continuous immigration sweeps in and around San José and also in beach communities.


Analysis on the news


In addition, two recent shootouts between robbers and police demonstrated the no-nonsense approach of the Fuerza Pública, the front line police, who responded and wasted no time in opening up on the criminals.

Thefts continue unabated, particularly among tourists. But the Judicial Investigating Organization grabbed a suspect Friday who is believed to be responsible for some 15 vehicle break-ins around Liberia.

The country’s law enforcement efforts still are hampered by lack of resources, particularly in rural areas. But in the cities, police have stepped up their presence.

Attacks on foreigners seem to have been greatly reduced in the downtown tourist area where more than 50 persons were mugged in the last 18 months. There have been no recent cases reported.

Murders involving North American residents here have all resulted in arrests.

Drug enforcement has been stepped up and arrests continue to be made of drug couriers, including Europeans, using the Juan Santamaría International Airport. Domestic vendors of crack cocaine also are feeling the heat.

President Abel Pacheco has been accused of having a Puritan attitude toward sex and gambling operations. And some of the enforcement efforts disproportionately target prostitutes and businesses that cater to them. But his programs are active on the domestic front, too.

The ministry that supervises the police and Pacheco are encouraging the formation of local citizen watch groups to be the first line of defense against crime. Hundreds of persons have been trained since the beginning of Pacheco’s term.

The court system also is in the process of being reformed, both internally and with 
 

lawmaking by the Asamblea Nacional.  A recent survey by Demoscopía said that 56.8 percent of the citizens think that the Poder Judicial, the courts and investigators, are good or very good, according to a report by Dr. Luis Paulino Mora Mora, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

That sentiment comes in spite of the workload of the court increasing 61 percent during the last six years, during which a million new cases were filed, said the court president.

Although violent crime, street robberies and holdups, seem to be getting police attention, officials were surprised this year to learn that the Sicilian Mafia had interests in sportsbook and Internet gambling operations here. The progress in investigating such crimes and infiltration is less clear than progress on the street.

The ease and speed with which an individual can set up such an operation makes Costa Rica an unknowing host. And a percentage of such operations really are criminal enterprises which have no intention of giving Internet gamblers a fair shake. Frequently smaller operations are scams for grabbing money.

Progress in fighting violent crime probably is lost on a number of North Americans and others here who equate the Poder Judicial with the investigations of the Villalobos and Savings Unlimited investment operations that collapsed. But these are complex crimes that generated a lot of paperwork. The Costa Rican investigative arm is not well equipped to probe crimes of this magnitude.

The immigration sweeps also generate mixed reviews among North Americans. But merchants in downtown San José and other North Americans welcome the sweeps because they rid the area of potential troublemakers. The Costa Rican residency process requires police investigation of applicants, so those who continually renew tourist visas instead are not subjecting themselves to official review of their past.

The system doesn’t work all of the time. Some high profile scam artists also managed to get residency papers here. But several police agencies now have redoubled their efforts to capture the fugitives from other countries who have set up shop here. Recent arrests of a beauty parlor operator in Escazú and a multimillionaire, both on U.S. warrants, are just the beginning.

Police actions against street crime and international drug dealing do not mean that large more sophisticated crimes are being addressed. But at least there is a start.

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Quepos library event raises $2,100 for bus
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fund-raiser Sunday for a proposed library in Quepos was a resounding success, according to Kris Krengel, an organizer and president of the Cultural Association of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, which is behind the initiative.

The event raised an estimated $2,100 from a combination of sales of local artists’ works and other traditional fund-raising events. Ms. Krengel said another positive outcome is people indicating a desire to help with the donation of books, perhaps the most important aspect in the long-run.

Canadian writer William Deverell and Costa Rican singer and musician Luis Angel Castro donated both their services and works towards making the event a success. Both performed at the event — Deverell reading from his latest book, "The Laughing Falcon," which is set in Costa Rica, and Angel performing songs from several of his albums.

Both also donated proceeds from their works sold on the evening. Deverell, with the help of the Canadian Embassy, brought in a shipment of "The Laughing Falcon" especially for the event. Angel, meanwhile, put on sale all the albums he has produced since.

The winning bidder, or bidders as it turned out, in an auction won the right to be characters in Deverell’s next novel, "Mind Games."

The successful bidders were Alexander Walker, a farmer in the Quepos area, and Jib Faile, who died around a year ago but whose wife bid for him to be part of the novel.

People who know Walker, 68, in the Quepos area described him as quite a character, advising that a group of his friends had pulled together to bid for him. They finally paid $320.

"[I’ve] known the devils for about 20 years," said Walker. He knew nothing of his friends’ intentions. "I was amazed, staggered," he added.

Displaying elements of that character which his friends talk about, he joked on his inclusion in the book: "Is it going to be a character assassination?"

Deverell said that "Mind Games" will be set in Canada and will be about a neurotic forensic psychiatrist who is paranoid about everything.

The other winning bidder paid $320, too. Faile’s wife, Marilyn, it appears, seized the opportunity to have her husband remembered through literature. He will now be a character in the novel. 

The association now anticipates Monday night’s taking from Quepos restaurant Rancho Casa Grande. The owner there is donating proceeds to the association’s library fund, said Ms. Krengel. 

She said she is hoping the money from the restaurant will take the total amount gained from the weekend to over $3,000. That is the amount needed to purchase a bus the association has identified as a temporary home for the library.

Ms. Krengel said the bus will be used to take books to the people, while a suitable fixed location for the library can be found. She estimates that in about three months the bus part of the project will be up and running. 

The building the association sees as the permanent home of the library is Quepos’s old Ministerio de Salud building. However political problems are delaying the release of that building, said Ms. Krengel, and it is likely to be some time before it can be put into use.

Anyone who wants to donate to the Cultural Association of Quepos and Manuel Antonio’s library initative can contact Ms. Krengel at 305-3182.

Tovar goes to Colombia to discuss tariff changes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

On the back of the decision by the European Union to remove Costa Rica and Colombia from its favorable tax tariffs system for certain of those countries agricultural products, Roberto Tovar, Costa Rican foreign minister, Monday embarked on a diplomatic mission to Colombia.

There, Tovar will join with his Colombian counterpart, Carolina Barco, and Humberto Botero, the Colombian minister of exterior commerce, for talks on the removal, as well as on building an alliance between the two countries in a fight against terrorism and violence.

Costa Rica and Colombia enjoyed the favorable tax benefits with the European Union for several years. The system was originally put in place by the union to help developing countries compete in the world market — the reduced taxes extended to them enabling the countries to affordably place their products against wealthier nations.

Both countries benefited from the system to such an extent that the decision was taken to remove them. A pre-stated clause says that if countries exceed a calculated amount based on their performance for three years in a row, then they should be removed.

The removal had been delayed by complaints that removal would damage the countries’ economy. This was backed by many of the union’s member states, including Spain and Germany. The removal should have taken effect in January. 

But the union finally rubber-stamped the removal Thursday, ending any hopes Costa Rica had of retaining the benefits.

Costa Rica has been vocal in outlining the damage it says the removal from the system will have on the economy and other Latin American countries, particularly Nicaragua. Many Nicaraguans are employed in Costa Rican agriculture. 

There was a little of what seemed like snow in downtown San José for the last week. Workmen, like the one to the right, are spraying off loose paint from the Llacuna building. The flakes fall to the ground but do not melt!
A.M. Costa Rica photo

Agents grab suspected
pedophile priest

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. federal agents, working with authorities in Mexico, have captured a former priest who fled the United States last year after being indicted for child molestation. 

The accused, Austin Peter Keegan, is waiting extradition to the United States today after officers arrested him Saturday in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta. 

U.S. and Mexican authorities worked together on the investigation. An FBI spokeswoman says the agency is, in her words, "very pleased" to have found Keegan. 

The former priest fled San Francisco, California, late last year. He had been indicted on 25 counts of child molestation and sodomy involving two children more than 30 years ago. 

A San Francisco newspaper says the former priest was placed on inactive duty a decade ago because of suspicions he had molested other children.

Spanish court demands investigation of civil war

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MADRID, Spain — The Supreme Court here has ordered an investigation into crimes committed against Spanish citizens during Guatemala's civil war 20 years ago. 

Monday's ruling here was the result of an appeal by Mayan Indian activist Rigoberta Menchu, who has accused eight Guatemalan officers of genocide and torture in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

Ms. Menchu's original petition to the National Court here called for an investigation into all of the thousands of civilian kidnappings and killings said to take place during that time. 

In Monday's ruling, seven judges voted in favor of probing all the alleged war crimes, but a majority — the other eight — voted to investigate only those offenses against Spanish citizens. 

Ms. Menchu, who is Guatemalan, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work promoting the rights of Mayan Indians.

Guatemala was recently in the dock at the Inter-American Human Rights Court in San José, Costa Rica for the allegedly state-sponsored killing of Myrna Mack Chang, the Guatemalan anthropologist murdered Sept. 11, 1990.

Terrorists order search
for kidnapped to stop

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Leftist rebels are again demanding that the army call off its search for three Americans kidnapped last month after their U.S. government plane crashed in guerrilla territory . 

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia renewed the demand Monday, warning that the lives of the captives cannot be guaranteed if the army continues its search-and-rescue mission. The military has rejected the rebel demand. 

The insurgents also say they will negotiate the hostages' release with the government here, not with the United States. Last week, the terrorist group described the hostages as "prisoners of war," saying they will only be set free in a prisoner exchange with the government. 

The group captured the three Americans after their small plane crash-landed in the country's southern Caqueta province on Feb. 13. A fourth American and a Colombian soldier who were also on board the aircraft were found shot to death at the crash site. 

On Monday, President George Bush and his counterpart here, Alvaro Uribe, discussed the situation by telephone. The White House says the two leaders stressed the need to work together to win the hostages' freedom and to fight terror. 

For the past 39 years, Colombia has been mired in a civil war that pits the terrorist group and a smaller rebel group against rightist paramilitaries and the government. The conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year. 

 

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Firebomber hits local court facility in Hatillo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man threw a firebomb into the Juzgado Penal de Hatillo, the local courthouse, and caused a small fire early Monday.

But the reverberation of the act prompted the Corte Suprema de Justicia to order up a study of the security of judges and workers in the courts.

Investigators have an idea of who threw the firebomb. The individual was seen by neighbors in the southern San José district.

A statement from the court said later in the day that no files were lost in the second-floor fire, 

and even if they had been, the technology is in place to recreate the documents. The files would be those of persons facing prosecution.

The Fuerza Pública said that second floor offices suffered damage as did the ceiling and the walls. However, firemen were able to preserve the documents.

Police said the suspect lives in Urbanización las Margaritas en San Sebastián.

A year ago a woman fiscal or prosecutor, was confronted with a person who threw acid on her.  All court buildings have guards during the day, but only the principal buildings are guarded at night.

Trip to Tom and Norman Home will be March 15
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Angel of Love Foundation is organizing another excursion to the Tom and Norman Home in Guapiles March 15, its third visit this year.

The foundation supports the home, which takes in elderly people who are broke and unwanted.

Donlon Havener operates the excursions. Those who go on the excursion can expect to participate in various activities including a visit to the site of the home to meet the residents and visits to a local art gallery and home product distribution center. Profits from the center go to the foundation.

Previous participants of the excursion advise that an interesting time is to be had. The residents have been described as all having their own 

unique tales to tell, many of them inspiring and heart-rending.

The cost for the trip itself is 7,000 colons, which includes transportation by bus, lunch and a donation to the home.

The home celebrated its three-year anniversary in October. The foundation, and ultimately the home, was born out of the hard work of the people of Guapiles and North American volunteers. 

Havener is one of those people. He says the home just continues to grow. The latest plan is for the construction of an apartment for residents who require 24-hour care.

To book a place on the trip or for more information, contact Havener at 282-7794.


 
 
Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects. 

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 


Deadline is April 15

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.
 
Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to 

editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify "photo contest." Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name as the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

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