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These stories were published Tuesday, March 5, 2002
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Police step up attacks on marijuana cultivation
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police are stepping up their enforcement efforts to cut down on the cultivation of marijuana inside land designated as Indian reserves.

This land always has been a major source for marijuana in Costa Rica, in part because of the poverty in the Indian societies. But police now have been attacking the problem aggressively, according to spokesmen for the Fuerza Publica.

The situation in the hills has attracted more attention lately because the land being used figured in the Boruca Hydroelectric Project that is a source of conflict between the Indians and the government electrical monopoly, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The project is on the Rio Grande de Térraba in south central Costa Rica

During the last year the police have conducted a number of successful operations in the area, according to Lt. Guillermo Fallas, who is stationed in nearby Buenos Aires. One concern of police is how to step up enforcement even though they have a limited amount of resources, including police, he said.

Another problem in this area is that very few people from the close-knit Indian societies talk to police about the problem or that any information that is provided takes a long time getting to police because of the distances and the rugged territory involved, Fallas said.

A number of those who cultivate marijuana are Indians who have land on the reserve, and these people frequently receive outside financing from non-Indians who are interested in the marijuana crop, said police. 

Lt. Cristino Lázaro Rojas, a member of the Fuerza Reservista Brunca, the Indian police, said that a number of Indian residents are concerned by the proliferation of firearms among those who cultivate the marijuana in the hills. The bigger problem is that most Indians have firearms, and this presents a safety problem, he said.

In the hills, the marijuana cultivators can 

clear a spot and grow the crop and then move to another location. Unlike in a national park where a homesite would stand out like a sore thumb, the reserve is dotted with small spreads so a bit of land devoted to marijuana cultivation is not easily spotted.

The high price that marijuana brings, perhaps 8,000 colons ($23) per ounce on the streets of San José, has caused some Indians to give up the cultivation of corn and other commercial agricultural products, said others.

In February an operation in San Rafael de Cabagra at the head of the Rio Cañas resulted in the discovery of nearly 800 marijuana plants and the arrest of a family of Indians, including a father and sons. These people were not ignorant of the law because they have radios and other communication with the outside world, said Fallas.

The operations within the reserve take a lot of time because frequently police have to hike for upwards of 20 hours to arrive at an isolated spot where marijuana is cultivated, said Fallas, who added that the operations are coordinated with the Ministerio de Securidad Publica in San José and the Policia Control de Drogas.

Sometimes the police are able to borrow a helicopter to make flights into the sprawling reserve, he said. The reserve is about 25 million hectares or about 62 million acres. The land encircles the small city of Buenos Aires.

In addition, the reserve has a number of towns populated by various Indian groups, sometimes carrying the tribe name, including Rey Curré, Boruca, San Rafael and Cabagra.

Lázaro said that there are two groups within the reserve that make patrols. They are members of Comité de Vigilancia de los Recursos Naturales de la Reserve de Boruca. About 60 members of this group patrol the reserve, and part of their job is to spot illegal marijuana operations.

Fallas and Lázaro said that more citizens need to make complaints about the illegal operations. Without complaints and information, the police can do little, they both said.

Just so there is no doubt, the civic center in Rey Curré contains a banner opposing the Boruca Project along with drawings stressing that the Curré and Boruca tribes always lived here.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Solís and PAC deputies meeting with Indians on dam today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foes of the massive Boruca hydroelectric project will be in Rey Curré today to meet with national legislators to try to get some support to oppose the project.

The meeting is with Ottón Solís and members of his Partido Acción Ciudadana, according to Daniel Leiva, coordinator between the Rey Curré community and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the electric monopoly that wants to build the project.

Solís, the unsuccessful presidential candidate, is coming to the meeting to learn about problems caused by the project that will inundate Rey Curré and other population centers in the area.

Cristino Lázaro Rojas, a Boruca Indian, said that what is needed to understand the side of the people being displaced are visits from 

decision-makers who will then learn about the important riches the area holds. 

Lázaro, also a police lieutenant in the area, said that a number of his friends supported Solís in the last election where the candidate finished third. 

Leiva said that the people in the community need to have contact with the decision-makers so they can get some legal advice to help them in their fight.

The plan is to build a 220-meter (715-foot) dam across the Rio Grande de Térraba in south central Costa Rica and cover 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) with water to create a lake larger than Arenal in northern Costa Rica.

The electric monopoly says the project is necessary to insure sufficient power for the future. Foes say the company just wants to sell the power to Panama.

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U.S. cites some problems with human rights here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As usual, Costa Rica got a thumbs up from the United States in an annual report on human rights. However the report, released here Monday, did cite some problems

There were some instances of physical abuse by police and prison guards, the document said, but reports of police abuse of authority or misconduct decreased during the year. 

The judicial system processes some criminal cases very slowly, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention for some persons charged with crimes, the report also noted. 

Domestic violence was termed a serious problem, and traditional patterns of unequal opportunity for women remain, despite continuing government and media efforts to advocate change, the document said.

Abuse of children also remains a problem, and child prostitution is a serious problem, said the document, that also noted that child labor persists.

To back up its claim of police misconduct, the report said that the Ombudsman's office received 21 reports of police abuse of authority or misconduct during the year, compared with 52 in 2000, and 14 in 1999. The decline in reports was attributed to the inflated figures in 2000 because of the March 2000 general strike in the downtown as citizens protested plans to privatize the electric company.

Penitentiary overcrowding remains a problem, said the report, citing Ministry of Justice reports of a total prison population of 11,858 in November, with an overpopulation of 839 prisoners.

The unsolved murder on July 7 of popular radio host Parmenio Medina led to considerable public debate on press freedoms and renewed attention to legislative proposals aimed at easing media restrictions, said the document.

The law in Costa Rica prohibits trafficking in 

women for the purpose of prostitution, and in 1999 a statute went into effect that strengthens this prohibition, said the U.S. State Department.  However, it termed Costa Rica a transit and destination country for trafficked persons. 

Isolated cases of trafficking have involved persons from Africa, Asia, Bolivia, China, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the Middle East, said the report, adding that there also have been reports of girls from the Philippines being trafficked to the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. 

Elsewhere, the State Department said human rights abuses in Latin America are declining as democracy strengthens in the region, but that Colombia and Cuba remain two areas of concern. 

The State Department credits the Peruvian government for taking significant steps to investigate past abuses and corruption under former President Alberto Fujimori. The report also notes that current President Alejandro Toledo assumed power in 2001 following elections that observers considered to be generally free and fair. 

The State Department report says in Mexico, security forces have been accused of torturing detainees. It does, however, credit President Vicente Fox with naming a special prosecutor to investigate the unexplained disappearance of some 275 people dating back to the 1970s. 

The report also says the human rights situation remains poor in Colombia, where leftist rebel groups are at war against the government of President Andres Pastrana and a right-wing paramilitary force. The report notes the conflict, which began in 1964, kills as many as 3,500 people each year. In addition, it blames the outlawed groups for targeting civilians for kidnappings and massacres. 

In the Caribbean, the report describes Cuba as a totalitarian state where President Fidel Castro controls all aspects of life. Like Colombia, the report says Cuba's human rights situation is poor and that the government systematically violates people's civil and political rights.


 
Viper Lady is back in town to prey on tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The notorious Viper Lady scored another Gringo target Thursday when she lured a North American to a dark bar then spiked his drink.

While in a drug-induced stupor, the man paid $500 for a pack of cigarettes, lost a bag with $100 and perhaps became the victim of credit-card fraud, according to a friend.

The friend, a resident here, said that the man might report his case to authorities but there was no guarantee. 

"I realize he, like many others, is embarrassed about what happened and is reluctant to come forward. In the end he has been turned off to Costa Rica and will probably not settle here," said the friend.

Both men did not want their names used.

The Viper Lady, perhaps a Venezuelan and perhaps not even a woman, has made news before. She or they (because there may be a gang rather than a lone operator) picks up male tourists and either spikes their drink or otherwise administers a drug.

The friend said that the con lady picked up the man on the pedestrian mall between calles 7 and 9. She asked questioned first in Spanish and then in 

English to determine that he was a tourist. Then she invited him to a dark bar south of Avenida 2  because "Today is my birthday."

The woman said that she was from Venezuela and in the real estate business. She began to stir the man’s drink with her finger.

"Minutes later he is incapacitated and is talked into going to a store and paying for cigarettes with a credit card," said the friend. An accomplice in the  store seems to have charged $500 and probably split the proceeds with the con lady. The woman then put the man in a taxi to his hotel.

The viper lady was described as an attractive woman dressed in a business suit with scarf at the neck and neat long hair put up. 

The Viper Lady scores a string of such thefts and then seems to leave town for long periods. Police have been unable to make a firm arrest, in part, because most tourists do not file complaints.

The 40ish Viper Lady’s technique is such that men who would be highly suspicious if they were approached by a younger, more attractive woman go willingly with her.

The woman or her group may be responsible for more than 100 such assaults in San José and points nearby during the last several years.


 
Newspaper continues 
to draw more readers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica continued to grow in February. The newspaper’s web pages received 149,360 hits even though the month was a short one with just 28 days.

The figure represents a 17.1 percent increase over January when the pages received 127,513 hits. The figures are maintained by an independent statistical program operated by the U.S. company that hosts the amcostarica.com Web domain.

The Internet newspaper was six months old on Feb. 15. During the first half month of operation in August, the web pages received 14,127 hits, just 9 percent of February's activity.

In February, all statistics showed increases. Total page views were 41,823, up 11.5 percent over January. Total sessions were 14,709, up 7.7 percent over January.

According to the online documentation provided by HTTP-ANALYZE 2.01, the statistical program for tracking Web use, the following definitions are current in the Internet world for tracking Web site visits:

"Total Hits" is the total number of files that are requested from the server. "Page Views," or "Page Impressions" is the number of pages viewed. "User Sessions" is the number of unique users who visited a web site during a certain time period.

The Web site averages about 5,500 hits per day and had a high of 8,985 on a single day in February. Because A.M. Costa Rica is not published on Saturday or Sunday, Web use is lower those day, although there still is significant activity as readers catch up on what they missed during the week.

Readers who sent e-mails to the newspaper said they liked the way in which they could find out news of Costa Rica instantly without waiting for delivery people or mailmen.  Daily publication provides articles of immediate interest. Several cited the local coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States when the Web page was updated every few hours with stories of direct interest to people in Costa Rica.

Others also cited news stories about a passenger plane crash in Quepos that provided hourly information about the disaster and the subsequent successful search for survivors.

Some readers also praised the Friday columns by Jo Stuart. A number also praised the continual tourism coverage by Patricia Martin. A handful said they were enchanted by newspaper coverage of the weekend Tico Train, a tourist passenger service to the Pacific coast.

Advertisers praised the way they could change their announcements on a daily basis to reflect changing market conditions or possible sales.

OAS will send team
to help calm Haiti

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — The Organization of American States will send a special mission to Haiti designed to settle that Caribbean country's long-running political crisis.

The OAS said Friday's statement that it had signed an agreement with Haiti's minister of foreign affairs, setting out the terms and conditions for the mission that will support Haiti in strengthening the country's democratic institutions, specifically in the areas of security, justice, human rights, democratic development, governance and institutional development.

The mission will also conduct an independent investigation into the December 2001 attack on the presidential palace in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Theater Group show
called a hot ticket

The latest offering from Costa Rica's oldest English-speaking community theatre, The Little Theatre Group, is well into it's run, and this writer urges those who have not yet seen "The Vagina Monologues" to book their seats NOW! 

There is only one more weekend and bookings are very heavy as people return for a second look at what has proved to be a very amusing,   entertaining, thought-provoking show. 

It has played to sell-out houses almost every night   and recieved standing ovations for the first time in the history of the group. 

Many men have been heard to comment that they cried, either with laughter or sadness, and that they learned a lot from the performances of the 11 beautiful women who comprise the cast of this surprising show.  Call  289-3910 for bookings. 

Remaining show dates and times are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., all in the group’s theater in Bello Horizonte.

— Dale Watson
Argentina gets visit
from monetary fund

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

International Monetary Fund officials are expected in Argentina today for talks on a new loan package for the financially-troubled country. 

Argentina is reportedly seeking as much as $20 billion in IMF money to bring the country back from the brink of economic collapse. The nation has been in recession nearly four years and defaulted on $141 billion in public debt. 

The IMF, however, has said Argentina must develop a plan for sustainable economic development in order to qualify for new financial aid. In December, the lending agency withheld more than $1 billion in loans for Argentina, saying the government failed to control spending. 

In a bid to spark economic recovery, President Eduardo Duhalde devalued the peso several weeks ago, ending its decade-old parity with the U.S. dollar. Some economists, however, fear the move could trigger inflation. 

Market analysts also say the peso's value could plummet if the IMF does not signal its backing for a new loan. 

The peso has dropped sharply in value since it began floating freely on the open market.
 

Man found in hotel
left suicide note

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who was found dead Thursday in a room in a west San José hotel took his own life, said a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization Monday.

He was Eugene Aundercod, 55, they said. He was found by a housekeeper about 4 p.m. Thursday in Room 619 in bed with a plastic garbage bad wrapped around his head, according to investigators.

Although a medical examiner’s report still is awaited, investigators said that bottles of medication were found on the bedside table as well as two notes and that there was no sign of violence. They were unable to give more information about the man.

The hotel was Quality Hotel Centro Colon that makes up the rear portion of Centro Colon and faces Avenida 3 between calles 38 and 40.

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