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These stories were published Thursday, March 4, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 45
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Busting alleged airport heroin ring took agents four years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug agents have finally rolled up a criminal enterprise they say was responsible for sending Colombian heroin to the United States and Europe. The investigation took four years.

If what agents believe is true, they finally have determined who was sending courier after courier through Juan Santamaría Airport with the drug usually sewn in clothing.

Investigators have been picking up these couriers periodically. One 42-year-old man picked up Jan. 9 when he was en route to Madrid, Spain, had 100 small ovals of heroin in his stomach.

Friday agents at the airport encountered an 18-year-old Italian man who was a naturalized 
Guatemalan. He had eight pieces of the 

distinctive clothing in his suitcase. Within the fabric, Judicial Investigating Organization agents said he had two kilos of heroin.

Acting on information gained from the investigation and arrest, agents then went to Paso Ancho where they detained a 35-year-old woman, the alleged leader of the smugglers. Agents said that she would recruit and send persons from other countries to carry drugs from Costa Rica.

The route to the United States passed through Guatemala. They identified the woman as Lony Alvarez Quiros. Another woman was taken into custody at the same time because she was found in possession of another suitcase with heroin-laced clothing, agents said.

Heroin is not usually associated with Colombia, although the drug is produced there. Some is shipped in from Asia.

Opening is tonight in Barrio Escalante
This photographer is a political and social critic 
Photo by Fabián Hernández
Downtown street vendor selling magnifying glasses was captured in black and white.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Photography as political and social criticism is the core of an exhibition that opens tonight at the Museo Calderón Guardia in Barrio Escalante.

The photographer, Fabián Hernández, is seeking to create a "reality of decadence, destruction and globalization," according to a museum spokesman. Some of the works are in black and white. These suggest the Depression Era works of U.S. photographer Margaret Bourke-White.

Hernández is concerned about why Latin America has not assumed the position of leadership he believes it deserves, and he has traveled extensively with his camera to capture scenes from Brazil, Cuba, México, Perú, Ecuador and here in Costa Rica. 

The photographer-critic also is worried about environmental damage, and some of these works are included in the exhibition, which is titled "Why do we keep waiting? The fall into the abyss." Despite the dark tone of the show, Hernández says he seeks a symbolic window to a better future. 

The museum will run the show until March 26. The museum is 100 meters east and 100 meters north of the Santa Teresita Church, the major landmark of the area. Entry is free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

 
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More viruses, frauds
arrive on Internet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Internet is being flooded by another wave of virus messages, and some of these have the names of friends or colleagues in the sender space.

Even Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet monopoly known as RACSA, issued a warning Wednesday about the W32.Netsky.D@mm virus. RACSA usually is slow to respond, but not this time.

The Netsky virus seems to be an improved version of the MyDoom virus that besieged computer mailboxes for two weeks. Netsky, too, is a worm that enters a Window-based computer system when a user opens an e-mail attachment containing the virus, according to Semantec, a maker of computer security software.

The attachment comes as a .pif file, although the file suffix might be hidden or changes. The virus searches out e-mail addresses on the infected computer and mails copies of itself to any address it finds.

Some virus variants try to trick users by telling them that their e-mail accounts have been frozen and that they must follow the instructions in an attachment.

RACSA also said that Banco Popular, the issuer of the VISA card here, was concerned about Internet fraud because phony messages seek to steal the account numbers and passwords of users. This is similar to the Pay Pal frauds that began several weeks ago and continue to arrive daily.

The false message takes a user to a Web page that appears identical to VISA or Pay Pal or a number of other financial entities. Alternatively, the false message can implant a small program that copies passwords and sends them to crooks.

New inspection station
to catch smugglers 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Smugglers are going to be facing a new and more efficient vehicle inspection station at Peñas Blancas at the border with Nicaragua.

That is a border crossing point that has been plagued with drug and weapons shipments. 

But Friday or next week, law enforcement officials will inaugurate a $1 million inspection station, paid mostly by U.S. donations. The facility will allow detailed inspections of suspicious vehicles, according to Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Ramos said that not every vehicle will go through the stronger inspection process, but officials will be on the lookout for suspicious traffic.

Costa Rica is a major land bridge for drug traffickers, and Peñas Blancas on the northern frontier is a key crossing. Although most drug shipments are leaving Costa Rica for points north, the inspection station will allow agents to search for other types of illegal merchandise. For example, the border point is used by arms smugglers.

The Policía de Control de Drogas will be in charge of the inspections, according to Ramos. Officers have made several arrests in the last few months in which vehicles had to be partly dismantled to reveal drug shipments.

Quepos arrests dent
drug market, cops say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men who officials describe as major drug deals in Quepos have been arrested. 

Carlos Alberto Rodríguez, 32, came into the hands of agents Monday after they raided his rented room. Judicial Investigating Organization spokesmen said that agents found a kilo of cocaine and more than a kilo of pressed marijuana. After raiding the room, agents waited for Rodríguez to appear.

In Playa Bejuco in Quepos agents said they arrested a man who was a major marijuana supplier to tourists in the Pacific beach town. He is Juan Carlos Robles Zúñiga, 33.

Canadian minister visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Canadian minister for new and emerging markets was in Costa Rica Wednesday and paid a call at the foreign ministry and at Casa Presidencial.

The minister is Gar Knutson, and he met with acting President Lineth Saborío and Roberto Tovar, the chancellor.

Tovar and Knutson discussed the free trade treaty that Costa Rica has negotiated with Canada.

Trade between the two countries in 2003 was $363 million, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

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Hemisphere is called cash cow for terrorism
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and its partners in the Western Hemisphere are working together to curb the threat of international terrorism in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to U.S. officials.

There is no evidence of operational planning by international terrorist organizations in Latin America, but there are "many, many support activities" for such groups taking place throughout the region, said Maj. Gen. Rod Bishop, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, in remarks Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Speaking at a conference labelled "The Middle East Terrorist Connection in Latin America and the Caribbean," Bishop indicated that the tri-border area shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, in addition to Margarita Island off Venezuela, Colombia, and Trinidad & Tobago are among the places in the hemisphere where international terrorist groups are engaged in illicit activities.

Bishop said that international terrorist groups in these areas are engaged in laundering money, forging documents, and transporting drugs, arms and illegal aliens. These activities, he noted, generate millions of dollars for terrorists around the world.

To curb these activities and to carry out its global war on terrorism, the United States has established a Joint Inter-Agency Coordination Group among U.S. government entities that aims to enhance cooperation and improve information-sharing, Bishop said.

He added that the United States is also engaged with its hemispheric partners in combating international terrorism in the region.

"Many of our Latin American and Caribbean 

neighbors are stepping up to the plate and helping us in this fight," Bishop said. "They are indicting, arresting, and in some cases extraditing those individuals involved in terrorism."

The United States is sharing techniques and intelligence with its hemispheric partners and working hard together to monitor the activities of radical Islamic groups in the region, Bishop explained. "This cooperative approach is at our frontline in the war on terrorism," he added.

William Pope, principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State, concurred with this assessment. "The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere have been firm partners in the war on terrorism," he said.

Yet while the hemisphere has demonstrated political will to curb international terrorism, the capacity to thwart terrorist activity in the region is "sorely lacking," Pope said.

Efforts to bolster the region's ability to curb international terrorism focus, in part, on improving the basic security of hemispheric nations, Bishop observed. He said that terrorists seek out areas without basic security, ungoverned spaces where they can act with virtual impunity.

The United States Southern Command is working closely with its counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean to minimize the ungoverned spaces that exist in the region, Bishop confirmed.

Another crucial component in the global campaign against terrorism, Bishop and Pope noted, is the targeting of terrorist resources. 

Pope said the United States is actively supporting several financial task forces in the region, and suggested that efforts to address the fundraising activities of radical Islamic groups in the region have already yielded results.


 
State of emergency declared in troubled Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti— The prime minister late Wednesday declared a state of emergency, and the country's interim president named a new national police chief to combat lawlessness and violence in the Caribbean nation. 

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune declared a state of emergency to combat what he described as groups fomenting terror in the capital, and to restore calm to Haiti. Neptune said vandalism and looting have caused $300 million worth of damage in Haiti over the past few days.

A state of emergency gives Haiti's government authority to suspend constitutional protections. However Neptune gave no indication he plans to do so. Neptune said a state of emergency will allow the resumption of normal life in Haiti. Neptune called on all public employees to return to their jobs and says banks which have been closed for more than a week are expected to reopen today.

Haiti's interim president, Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre, has named the former head of Haiti's Coast Guard, Leonce Charles, as the country's new national police chief. Charles has a reputation for being honest and politically independent.

Opposition groups who have complained about political interference in Haiti's police force welcomed the appointment.

Following a meeting with the commander of U.S. Marines in Haiti, Col. Mark Garganus, the rebel commander and former regional police chief Guy Philippe called on his supporters to disarm.

Philippe said now that ex-president Jean Bertrand Aristide has left Haiti, and multinational troops are in the country, it was time for his forces to lay down their arms. U.S. officials say Philippe's pledge to disarm will greatly help stability in Haiti. There are now more than 1,000 U.S. Marines in Haiti. French commanders say they expect to have about 800 troops in the country by the end of Thursday.

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Offshore politics is a factor
U.S. lawmakers hurry to repeal illegal subsidies
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two days after the European Union began imposing retaliatory tariffs on imports from the United States, the U.S. Senate started debating a legislative proposal aimed at repealing the offending U.S. law that led to the sanctions.

The Bush administration has urged Congress to pass the repeal quickly although it has taken no position in favor of any of the three leading legislative proposals, one in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives.

At issue is a series of U.S. laws that the World Trade Organization has ruled as illegal export subsidies. The World Trade Organization first ruled illegal longstanding Foreign Sales Corporation tax breaks for certain U.S. exporters. Then in 2002 the World Trade Organization ruled illegal tax breaks made under the Extraterritorial Income Act, the successor law to the foreign corporation measure.

The World Trade Organization authorized the EU to impose sanctions amounting to $4 billion a year. After waiting for the United States to act, the EU finally began March 1 imposing tariffs worth 5 percent of the authorized level, prepared to increase the level by 1 percentage point a month up to 17 percent.

Before the full Senate Wednesday was a bill approved 19-2 in October by the Senate Finance Committee called the Jumpstart Our Business Strength (JOBS) Act. The main provision would over three years repeal the offending legislation and reduce the tax rate for all U.S.-based manufacturing companies, not just for certain exporting companies and not for offshore manufacturing, to 32 percent from 35 percent.

Other provisions aim at reforming the U.S. international tax regime, including ending double taxation of income and shutting down offshore tax shelters.

"Flaws in our international tax rules seriously undermine America's ability to compete in the global marketplace," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican chairman of the Finance Committee. 

"International reform is long overdue. Our current system is based on a framework enacted during President Kennedy's administration. We clean up problems that cause foreign earnings to be double taxed by both the U.S. and the foreign country where the profits are earned."

Several members are expected to challenge the bill by amendments.

Some Republicans, in line with administration criticism, want to amend the bill by reducing the top corporate tax rate for all corporations, not just for manufacturers. Grassley said he would oppose such an amendment, arguing that manufacturing, the sector that would be hurt by the repeal of the subsidies, should get any benefits from repeal legislation. He also argued that the proposed amendment would reduce taxes only for the biggest corporations, not for small family-held corporations or partnerships as the JOBS bill would.

Another amendment offered by Democrats aims to restrict foreign outsourcing of U.S. jobs paid for by U.S. federal government spending.

When the Senate would finish work on repeal legislation was uncertain.  Meanwhile, companion legislation in the House of Representatives has been stuck in a stalemate for months.

Rep. Bill Thomas, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Wednesday he was aiming to bring to the House floor in a few weeks a revised version of a repeal bill he pushed through committee in October.

The Ways and Means bill would have decreased tax revenue about $60 billion over 10 years while his revised version would cost only about $3 billion, he said. The Senate Finance bill is supposed to be revenue neutral.

Thomas failed to gain support for the Ways and Means bill, however, from about 25 House Republicans who opposed tax breaks for U.S. companies with overseas operations.

To become law a repeal bill would have to be passed in both the House and Senate and signed by the president.


 
Bird flu is widespread, but few humans sickened
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

International public health organizations say the outbreak of bird flu in eight Asian nations is the most widespread and serious occurrence of a disease that was once thought to be rare. With that knowledge, the World Health Organization has repeated its warning that only with diligence and difficulty will the disease be controlled.

The H5N1 avian influenza strain has struck widely in eight Asians nations since December 2003. Most of the countries involved are seeing the infectious and deadly disease in poultry flocks for the first time. So far, 100 million birds have either died from bird flu or been culled in containment efforts.

In a Tuesday avian influenza situation report, the World Health Organization cites disease-tracking data dating back to the 1950s to substantiate the severity and uniqueness of the current outbreak. The fact that the stricken birds are largely kept in small-scale farms located over wide areas increases the difficulty of controlling the current outbreak as contrasted with those of the past. It is 

occurring in a region with little previous experience in coping with such an outbreak, and, in many cases, local authorities have few resources for implementing a widespread containment effort. 

"These unique features will make rapid control and long-term prevention of recurrence extremely difficult to achieve," said the World Health Organization situation report. 

Despite the severity of the outbreak and the serious economic losses to poultry producers in the affected countries, the worst fears of public health officials so far have not come true. The disease has infected some humans, but only two new, confirmed human cases have been reported in the last two weeks. Epidemiologists feared that the H5N1 virus might mutate into a strain that would become highly infectious in human-to-human contact. 

Currently communicable disease surveillance reports a total of 33 human cases and 22 deaths, all of those in Vietnam and Thailand. 


 
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