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These stories were published Wednesday, March 5, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 45
Jo Stuart
About us
Even expensive, official roofs can develop leaks and woes
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a guy who has a house in Zapote. Just before he moved in, the previous owner arranged for some $153,000 in renovations. It’s a big place.

Now his associates are suggesting the work was the remodeling from Hell. The man who maintains the house and hired experts have come up with a 13-point list of deficiencies:

Since the beginning of the rainy season in 2002 the roof leaks and other parts are beginning to deteriorate. The bathrooms are not up to snuff, and there is a persistent foul odor of sewage. Window seals don’t.  The floors are not level. The roof has problems, and there are concerns about the new electrical wiring. The rain gutters are rusty already.

In all, there is about $64,000 in damage, said an inspection team.

Most individuals facing such problems would have a long, uphill court fight. But the house in question here is Casa Presidencial, and the 

person concerned about the leaking roof is President Abel Pacheco.

The president got a report from Eduardo Montero González, director general of the Presidencia, about the building Tuesday. Reporters were quick to take notice because the space involved is the Sala de Prensa and Auditorio of Casa Presidencial.

Pacheco aides say they will go to court against the contractor, identified as Luis Guillermo Rivera Hidalgo, in a letter from Montero.

In the meantime, maintenance workers at Casa Presidencial and others from the government are seeking to repair the damage, Montero said.

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
Still a long way to go for workmen on the 105-meter bridge
Los Anonos work just might be done in April
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pencil in the first week in April for the opening of the Los Anonos bridge between Sabana Oeste and Escazú. But just use pencil.

Modesto Modrigal, the foreman in charge of the workers undertaking the upgrade of the bridge, said Tuesday the bridge is due to reopen the first week in April.

The bridge was to reopen Dec. 15. Javier Chaves Bolaños, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, said as much on the day of its closing. Work began on the bridge Aug. 21.

Modrigal blamed the delay on problems inside government. At the outset the government 

estimated the project would cost $470,000. Modrigal said the cost has definitely gone above that estimate.

The bridge is being upgraded so that it takes two lanes of cars, one in either direction. Before, vehicles on either side had to wait until oncoming cars crossed the bridge before proceeding. Modrigal says the bridge will have been widened by around 3.7 meters (about 12 feet) when it is completed.

Workmen now have the metal deck in place awaiting concrete. Railings are not yet up.

Since the closure, those who have used the bridge have either used the autopista Próspero Fernández, or the road that passes through Los Anonos, known as Bajo de los Anonos.

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High court lets woman keep her U.S.-born child
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican woman has won a major battle in her effort to retain custody of her U.S.-born son.

She is Flora María Gaitán Tejada, and the boy is Marco, now 4. Both live in Heredia where the child goes to kindergarten.

The case entered the newspages in January 2002 here and in the father’s hometown of Naples, Fla. The case has had high visibility, in part because the father, Ralph Stumbo, set up a corporation to help men with custody problems. He also is associated with the local chapter of the Foundation for Fathers of Separated Families.

Ms. Gaitán contacted a reporter this week because "all I want to have is my name cleared," she said. Stumbo claimed that she committed a felony when she took the child from Naples Aug. 1, 2001, and brought him to Costa Rica.

The Sala Primera of the Corte Supreme de Justicia in San José took a different approach, according to a written decision provided by Ms. Gaitán. The court accepted as binding a January 2001 separation agreement that awarded custody to Ms. Gaitán.

Stumbo was counting on a January 2002 judicial order from a Collier County, Fla., court awarding 
him a divorce and custody of the child. However, 

the court noted that the boy also is Costa Rican, and Article 32 of the Costa Rican Constitution prohibits forcing a citizen to leave the country, something that probably would happen if Stumbo won custody.

The court also said that it was not clear that Ms. Gaitán ever was notified of the legal action against her in Florida. She took the boy and came to Costa Rica before the court case began there. 

The Sala Primera case was appealed from the Heredia court system where Stumbo initially filed his demand and U.S. legal papers. Stumbo could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He may appeal the case further.

Ms. Gaitán said that since the story made the newspaper here she has been approached by what she considered extortionists who claimed that they would inform on her to her husband unless she paid them. She did not, she said. 

She has tried to keep her location a secret, although she had met several times with her husband at public places to provide him visiting time with his son. Since being in Costa Rica the bilingual Ms. Gaitán has worked as a tour guide, according to the court decision.

Stumbo has been in Costa Rica off and on for many years and once operated a pizza outlet in San Sebastian.

Taxi drivers burn
vehicle of San Jorge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Taxi drivers got into a shouting match that escalated about 11:30 Monday night on Avenida 2 near Parque Central.  Police dispersed the taxi drivers after more than 80 vehicles showed up and blocked the street. Meanwhile, someone torched the taxi that was the target of the protest.

The Fuerza Pública said that members of the Irazú, Alfaro, Guaria and CoopeTaxi cooperatives were in dispute with a driver from the Coope San Jorge. The exact reason for the dispute is unclear.

Within 25 minutes more than 80 taxis had arrived, blocked the streets and began making threats. That’s when the San Jorge taxi burst into flames.

Later a caravan of taxis passed by the office of the San Jorge cooperative, and drivers shouted threats, police said.

Visitors to museum
will make Indian masks

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos Banco Central are having a festival in the Plaza de las Cultura downtown Saturday beginning at 10 a.m., and the museums below the plaza will be open to the public for free, said an announcment.

The event is being named the I Festival Cultural en la Plaza 2003.

From 10 to noon there will be various acts in the plaza, including a swing group and a puppet show with Arnulfo y sus Criaturas Maravillosas

At noon visitors will be invited to see the preColombian gold museum and the exhibit on the Boruca Indian cultura that is running at the temporary exhibit area.

From 1 to 2 p.m. visitors will be invited to participate in creating a Boruca mask with materials provided by the museums.

Brazilian Carnival 
parties to a close

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The famed Carnival parade here has drawn to a close with thousands of sequined and feathered revelers partying into early Tuesday.

Despite rainy weather, the second and final night of parading opened Monday as a samba school saluted the country's national football team. The team set a record last year by winning its fifth World Cup championship.

As the pre-Lenten bash progressed at the city's "Sambadrome" stadium, other samba schools also treated spectators to a nine-hour show of music, dancing, singing and floats. 

Each samba group comprises about 4,000 people, many of whom spend months rehearsing for the annual Carnival parade. 

The groups are judged on several criteria, including music, costumes, originality, floats, and even enthusiasm. The winning group will be announced on Ash Wednesday, when the festivities here and across the country officially end. 

The two-day parade is the centerpiece of Carnival celebrations and is broadcast across the nation of 170 million people. 

This year, the celebrations took place amid a strong security presence. Gang violence last week prompted officials to deploy some 30,000 police backed by 3,000 soldiers to the streets.

Even with the heightened security, at least one person was killed and six others injured in violence around the carnival stadium.

Soccer returns to Afghanistan

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ghazi Stadium is once again hosting football (soccer) matches. This seemingly unremarkable news signals a welcome return to normal life here. The stadium, one of the few public buildings that remained relatively unscathed from the disastrous Afghan civil war of the early 1990's, became notorious during the Taliban era as the scene of public executions, beatings and floggings.

Habib Ullahniazi, a professional football coach at the stadium for the past 18 years, remembers those days very well, and said that as many as 30 people were shot during the intermissions of football games.

"They would announce [the executions] the night before on Kabul Radio, and those who were interested would come," he said.

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Hydrogen fuel cells for cars given a big boost
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The prospect of hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars promises the benefits of major reductions in air pollution and U.S. dependence on foreign oil suppliers.

In his State of the Union speech Jan. 28 President George Bush announced a $1.2 billion initiative to develop technology to produce commercially viable, hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power non-polluting cars, trucks, homes and businesses. The Department of Energy says Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative will make it practical and cost effective for large numbers of Americans to use fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

Hydrogen fuel is about two times more efficient than fossil fuels, which is why many automakers are working on the technology, says T. Nejat Veziroglu, president of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy. Another benefit would be a reduction in noise pollution since fuel cells don't function through combustion or moving parts, he noted.

"Fuel cells and batteries are electrochemical devices, and by their very nature have a more efficient conversion process," points out a report entitled "Fuel Cells, Green Power" by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Scientists have known about fuel cells since William Grove discovered the principle in 1839. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration  has used the technology during space flights. The U.S. Department of Energy has been supporting research and development of fuel cell technology since 1984. But current hydrogen fuel cells use expensive materials such as platinum and rhodium as catalysts. Technological advancement is necessary to make the cells less costly before companies can realistically 

commercialize them for distribution, say the experts.

Hydrogen is usually stored on board vehicles as compressed gas, similar to compressed natural gas. The hydrogen flows into the fuel cell, where it undergoes a cool, electrochemical reaction with oxygen from the air to produce electricity. An electrical motor connected to the axles turns the vehicle's wheels. The only exhaust is water.

Hydrogen fuel cells are not dangerous, Veziroglu said. But hydrogen, just as any other fuel, can be dangerous and must be handled with care. Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen fuel is not poisonous, he said.

Another challenge to creating a world of fuel cell-powered automobiles is building the infrastructure to service the cars. Instead of pulling up to gasoline pumps, drivers would have to take their fuel cell-powered mobiles to hydrogen fuel stations.

Showa Shell Sekiyu KK, partnering with Iwatani International Corp. and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, is building Tokyo's first hydrogen refueling station, slated for completion in 2003. Technical expertise is coming from Amsterdam-based Shell Hydrogen, which boasts projects in the United States and Europe as well as Japan.

In Iceland, Shell is working with DaimlerChrysler and Norsk Hydro on ways geothermal energy and hydropower can contribute to eventually eliminating fossil fuel use and creating hydrogen exports.

Meanwhile, the race is on for auto companies to produce hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. Ford, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Honda and Toyota are just a few looking to move beyond experimental cars.

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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