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These stories were published Wednesday, March 6, 2002
Jo Stuart
About us
for dinner

A Saturday afternoon and a low tide brings out a fisherman near the mouth of the Río Barrú at the Highway 243 bridge in Dominical on the central Pacific coast.

Lower water levels allow the man to wade around the deeper areas into which they throw their nets.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Autopsy policies key to international dispute
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The British Embassy here is trying to mediate a dispute between the parents of a man who died here early last year and the officials who did the autopsy.

The parents have expressed their unhappiness in England that their son’s body came back without all of his vital organs intact.

The family is awaiting answers to a series of questions they have directed to officials regarding Costa Rica’s policies on autopsies.

The case started in January 2000 when Tony Somerville, 31, described as a vacationing tourist, died from a heart attack in a hospital in Alajuela. Although Somerville was a heart patient, investigators still ordered an autopsy.

Keith Somerville, the dead man’s father and Jean Drinkwater, his mother, took their complaints public when they said that their son’s body came back without all his internal organs, according to a report in a British newspaper. Some in the British press hinted darkly at an organ blackmarket.

His father was quoted as saying that the man had an organ donor card and would have wanted his organs to be used. However the pair also wanted to know how many other bodies come back from abroad in this fashion. The mother complained her son was just an empty shell.

Costa Rican officials, unidentified in the press report, said that the internal organs had been removed during the routine autopsy.  Also missing, according to the parents was a titanium heart valve that had been implanted in an earlier operation.

That internal organs are removed during an
autopsy is not news. The question is what happens to the organs after they have been removed, inspected and studied by a pathologist in an attempt to determine the cause of death and a multitude of other medical questions.

A detailed report on how an autopsy is performed can be found at 


The Web page is maintained by Ed Friedlander, a medical doctor and pathologist in the U.S. state of Missouri.  Said the site:

"When the internal organs, have been examined, the pathologist may return all but the portions they have saved to the body cavity. Or the organs may be cremated without being returned. The appropriate laws, and the wishes of the family, are obeyed."

The family’s questions are being fielded by Costa Rican officials though the British Embassy here where Vice-Consul Sheila Pacheco notes that Costa Rica, a tropical country, has very precise laws about death and burial.

She said that she has made no judgment at this stage and "The way to do justice is by sensibly answering the questions."

The British are sensitive to the retention of organs after autopsies because the issue leaped to national prominence two years ago when a medical report revealed that up to 54,300 organs removed during post-mortems have been held by various medical organizations since 1970, according to the Daily Mail newspaper.

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U.S. general says Colombia needs help to win
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A top U.S. military official said the Colombian government does not have the resources to defeat rebels and reestablish security in the country. The Bush Administration would like Congress to lift restrictions on U.S. military aid to Colombia. 

The acting commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Army Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, offered his assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. "The Colombian military and the Colombian police," he said, "lack the resources to fully reestablish a safe and secure environment throughout the countryside."

Speer praised Colombian President Andres Pastrana's tough response last month to stepped up rebel attacks. Pastrana broke off talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and began a campaign to reestablish state control over rebel-held territory.

The Bush Administration is seeking to expand U.S. assistance to Colombia, and is calling on Congress to lift limits on military aid to that country.


Over the past two years, Congress has approved nearly $2 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia but only for use in anti-drug efforts. It also imposed tough human rights restrictions on the military.

But in recent weeks, Congress appears to be warming to the idea of expanding military aid to Columbia's fight against rebels. It did not hurt that Bush named the two main rebel groups in Colombia as terrorist organizations.

Sen. Jeff Sessions is a Republican from Alabama. He said, "I think we have to change our focus in Colombia. I never felt the focus solely on narcotics was a wise policy. I now believe President Pastrana has given peace every possible chance. He has now made a decision that I think we need to support, which is, he has to take back his country."

Even Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a long-time supporter of restrictions on military aid to Colombia, has called for a review of the policy.

Speer told the Armed Services Committee he has already drafted recommendations on how the U.S. military could contribute to Colombia's counterinsurgency campaign if Congress ends the restrictions on military aid.

Little Theatre Group
going on the road

The Little Theatre Group’s latest production, "The Vagina Monologues," is going on the road. The cast has a show scheduled for Saturday Sept. 16 at Hotel Club Del Mar in Jacó.

The English-speaking group has been playing to full houses in San José. In Jacó the performance will be at 8  p.m. Hosts Philip and Marion will be pleased to take bookings at 643-3194, a theater spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the cast has three performances left at the Bello Horizonte theater, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.  Call 289-3910 for bookings.

Drug-fighting summit
underway in Bolivia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some 58 countries, including the United States, are participating in an international drug enforcement conference this week in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with the aim of increasing global cooperation in the fight against illegal drugs, according to the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia.

An embassy official said among those attending the conference from the United States are Asa Hutchinson, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, other DEA officials, and several U.S. Coast Guard admirals involved in anti-drug operations in the Caribbean.

The purpose of the 20th International Drug Enforcement Conference is to gather representatives from as many law enforcement agencies as possible from around the world to share experiences and information in order to fight the growth of the illicit drug industry, the official indicated.

The group originally focused on the anti-narcotics fight in the Western Hemisphere, but has now been expanded to examine the problem from a global perspective, the official said.

The conference follows the March 1 release by the U.S. State Department of the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which cited successes by countries of the Western Hemisphere in curbing the flow of cocaine and heroin into the United States.

The report said cocaine, heroin, and synthetic amphetamine-type stimulants are the three drugs of most concern to the United States. All of the cocaine and most of the heroin entering the United States originate in the Western Hemisphere.

Dangers to children
studied in Bangkok

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Accidents, injuries, indoor air pollution and poor drinking water and sanitation are some of the major causes of death for the 3 million children who die each year because of poor environmental conditions. The World Health Organization has convened a meeting of delegates from around the world in Bangkok this week to seek solutions to these problems.

The International Conference on Environmental Threats to the Health of Children is the first such meeting of its kind, says a WHO press release. The release says the issue deserves special attention because children in their development stage of life "are particularly vulnerable to the acute and chronic effects of pollutants in their environments."

Experts on planning
come to give views

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

City planning experts from Canada and Costa Rica met Tuesday to discuss the good and bad points of creating a unified metropolitan area over the patchwork of present day San José.

Two ex-mayors of major Canadian cities and a current mayor attended the session in the Hotel Corobici, according to a program provided by the Canadian Embassy. A number of Costa Rican technicians and politicians also attended.

The conference theme was the regionalization of government services as a way to enhance sustainable urban development. Right now 12 municipal governments can be found in the greater metropolitan area, said the Canadian program.

The experience of the three Canadian cities, Buckingham/Gatineau, Montreal and Edmonton were the focus of the Canadian presentations. Jocelyne Houle, former mayor of Buckingham, Pierre Bourque, former Montreal mayor and Bill Smith, the current mayor of Edmonton attended to discuss the experiences of their cities.

The Canadian visit was sponsored by the Canadian Ministry of Industry.

New tax on soft drinks
suspended by Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The government has temporarily suspended a 20 percent tax on soft drinks made with high-fructose corn syrup, apparently to ease tensions with the United States over the issue. 

The government of President Vicente Fox published the decree Tuesday in its Official Gazette. The suspension takes effect Wednesday and will remain in effect through Sept. 30.  The Mexican Congress imposed the controversial beverage tax in January to raise government revenues. 

Industry analysts however, say the move was intended to protect Mexico's ailing domestic sugar industry. Soft drink makers reacted to the tax by sweetening their beverages with sugar instead of corn syrup. 

Mexico imports much of the corn syrup from the United States, which denounced the tax. Analysts tell Reuters news agency the tax may have been imposed to force the United States into negotiations to open its ports to surplus Mexican sugar. 

Cuban exiles demand
Mexican investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

MIAMI, Fla. — Cuban exiles in the United States are urging Mexican lawmakers to investigate last week's incident in which 21 young Cubans were ousted from the Mexican Embassy in Havana. 

On Friday, Cuban authorities, responding to a Mexican government request, ended a 30-hour standoff by forcibly removing the Cubans who had crashed through the embassy's gates in a stolen bus. 

The Miami-based Democracy Movement made up of moderate Cuban exiles says it wants the Mexican congress to investigate the way officials handled the Cubans. 

Mexican officials say none of the men requested diplomatic asylum and had refused to leave on their own. U.S.-based Cuban exiles say the young men should have been considered as potential asylum seekers under international law. 

President Fidel Castro called them common criminals, while Mexico said they were simply looking for economic opportunities. Some Cuban American leaders have called for a 90-day boycott of Mexican products and travel to Mexico to show displeasure over Mexico's actions. But others say an extended boycott would only hurt the business community, not the government. 

The president of the Democracy Movement, Ramon Saul Sanchez, said that Mexico was the victim of manipulation by the Castro government for its policy of talking with Cuba's internal opposition. 

Cuba blamed the incident on the U.S.-based Radio Marti's broadcasts of remarks by Mexico's foreign minister, in which he welcomed Cubans to a new Mexican cultural center in Miami. Rumors spread that Mexico was offering exit visas. Radio Marti denied misquoting the official. Sanchez said it was the Castro government who spread the rumors. 

Cuba has not said what it plans to do with the embassy intruders, but they are expected to face public order charges. 

New steel tariffs
may trigger response

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

WASHINGTN, D.C. — The Bush Administration Tuesday imposed new tariffs on steel imports to provide a three-year breathing space for the struggling U.S. steel industry. The measures may well trigger a trade war with other steel producing countries. 

In the end, President Bush compromised. He gave the steel industry less protection than it wanted. But the tariffs of up to 30 percent on some products will raise the prices of imported steel and make it harder for the importers to compete. They could hit back with restrictions on U.S. products.

Robert Zoellick, the president's top trade official, warned these countries not to retaliate, saying they themselves have restricted steel imports and paid unfair subsidies to their steel companies. "I've been as free trade as they come," he said. "But if you look at the steel industry this is a worldwide industry that has just been rife with these subsidies and unfair practices."

The major problem in steel is that there is too much of it on the world market. The United States after China is the world's biggest steel importer. Imports have pushed U.S. steel prices to a 20-year low but they have also cost thousands of high paying jobs and brought the struggling U.S. steel industry to the brink of bankruptcy.

Alan Greenspan, the U.S. central bank chief, last week told lawmakers that the president's steel decision would have a critical impact not only on how foreign countries view U.S. trade policy, but also on the many U.S. industries that use steel. "It's also an issue of what a marked increase in steel import prices would do to the cost of steel using industries [at home], of which the numbers are quite substantially higher than the roughly 100 to 175 thousand who work directly in the [U.S.] steel industry," he said 

Scientists threatened
for work in Guatemala

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

Scientists in Guatemala say they have received death threats related to their work excavating mass graves from the nation's civil war. 

The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropological Association says it has received several copies of a typed letter threatening to kill 11 workers linked to the group if they do not stop their work. 

The government has promised protection for the scientists on the list, and U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell has voiced her concern. 

The organization excavates wartime graves to identify the bodies and investigate their deaths. They report they have unearthed some 2,000 victims massacred during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.

China and Brazil
going into space

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

Chinese media are reporting Brazil and China will send a satellite into space together later this year. 
The Brazilian-made structure is one of four in a collaboration between the two nations. The state-owned newspaper China Daily reports the satellite will be used to record environmental data. 

Dead man identified

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy has more fully identified a man found dead in a hotel in Centro Colon last Thursday. He is Eugene Underwood, 71, a New York City native, an embassy spokesperson said. A man who died last Wednesday in the Park Hotel in downtown San José was correctly named earlier as Gary Van Husen. The embassy spokesperson said he was born in Michigan and was 59 years old. 

Investigators are treating Underwood’s death as a suicide and the death of Van Husen as being from natural causes, but autopsy results are awaited in both cases.

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