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These stories were published Thursday, March 7, 2002
Jo Stuart
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His idea cuts down
on towing damage

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A State of Washington businessman thinks he has a better idea that will keep Costa Rican tow trucks from crunching up the front of heavy vehicles like buses.

The man is Ed Zackovich, president of Zacklift of Cle Elum, Wash. He has been in town to make presentations to Ministerio de Transporte Publica officials. That’s who puts those distinctive yellow tow trucks on the streets.

Zackovich, who returns home today, said traditional tow trucks have been taking a heavy toll on luxury buses and other heavy equipment here because so much of vehicle construction today is of plastic and other lightweight materials. 

About the first 10 feet of a fancy Mercedes bus is lightweight and heavily plastic, he said, so when a traditional tow truck exerts pressure, the body twists and sometimes the front windshield pops out.

Zackovich’s system, which he invented and patented, is a set of hydraulic arms that slide under a vehicle and lift it up by tires and

Zacklift photo used with permission
Big fingers of Zacklift grab bus

axles. Traditional trucks hook on to the bumper or front framework with cables.

His firm makes several sizes of the device, which he invented in the early 1980s. But on his trip here he was pushing the big ones that cost about $20,000 each. They are fitted to the rear of a heavy-duty truck. He promotes them as being damage free.

Zackovich said he sold two of his big devices to private companies during his short visit here. But he hopes the transportation ministry accepts his ideas because the deal would involve lots of 50 devices.

He will be working with local vehicle dealers here to put together a bid after the April 7 elections are completed, he said. The U.S. Embassy was instrumental in getting him appointments with Costa Rican officials.

Former restaurant
reborn for shopping

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What do you do with a sprawling bar and restaurant building with great parking, a terrific dance floor and all the other bells and whistles when you no longer want to be in that business.

For a Santa Ana businessman, the answer is to develop a weekend shopping mall.

Roberto Garcia Diaz is doing that with his restaurant building just a few hundred feet west of Cruz Roja on the Piedades road in that western San José suburb. The first weekend mall is scheduled for March 16 and 17, a Saturday and Sunday. Doors will open both days at 9 a.m.

Sidney Glazer, a former Atlanta businessman, and David Ryzowy, who runs a grocery business in Santa Ana, are handling the rental details for some 65 places and the promotion. They held an open house for prospective vendors Tuesday, and they will do so again tomorrow from noon until 2 p.m.

The men are taking advantage of the existing restaurant facilities and licensing to offer wine and beer along with a litany of food dishes. Glazer promises door prizes, Nathan hot dogs, hamburgers, bagels, an ATM machine and other amenities for shoppers. He also said that The Travel Store will be conducting a drawing for a three- to four-day vacation trip every two weeks.

The idea is not totally new in Costa Rica, but the location, west of Excazú is. The idea is that anyone with a product to sell can rent a space and show their wares to the public. Those 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Roberto Garcia Diaz discusses the table setup with Sidney Glazer at the Santa Ana weekend mall.

interested on Tuesday were a wine company, a coffee firm and a procession of others.

Glazer said that the wine company, Casa de Alvarado of Escazú, will be offering wine-making kits and classes. Other classes will be offered, too, he said.

Glazer said that he hopes local artists join with other vendors to market their works. He also plans to offer free space to local charitable organizations, he said.

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Crouse gets a change of prosecutors in killing case
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The lawyer for Roger Crouse said she hopes that a change in prosecutors will be an advantage to her client, the jailed Canadian bar owner from Playas del Coco.

Meanwhile, a preliminary hearing for Crouse is scheduled for March 19 at 1:30 p.m. in Santa Cruz, the administrative capital of Guanacaste.

The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for a judge to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to continue to hold the Canadian for a criminal charge stemming from the man he shot and killed in his bar, according to Marilyn Jiménez of Liberia, the lawyer.

Crouse, then 50, shot and killed the man in his Gaby's Bar in Playas del Coco the evening of Aug. 19. The man came at him with a knife, Crouse told investigators. The man had been in the bar earlier creating a disturbance, and police took him away only to free him and let him return to the bar two hours later.

The defense will seek the release of Crouse because the killing was a legitimate case of self-defense, said the lawyer.

The prosecutor in the case, or "fiscal," now is Aime Caravaca Wautter.  She took over from the former Olger León, who has left government service.

Crouse’s lawyer, Ms. Jiménez said that she thought León was a hardliner who was very tough to work with. As a result of León’s investigation, Crouse has languished in a prison in Liberia since the killing. He has been held in lieu of $50,000 bail, an amount officials said was necessary because he was a foreigner who could flee the country easily. Others saw the high bail as discrimination against foreigners. 

Ms. Jiménez, the lawyer, said she would try to prove in the preliminary hearing that the killing was an act of self-defense and that she would submit as proof the criminal record of the victim, 

one Miguel Villegas, known as "Platanillo" in the Coco community.

She said Villegas had a conviction for robbery and was a suspect in the sale of drugs.  The family of the dead man has joined in the case as is permitted under Costa Rican law and is seeking financial compensation for the death of their family member.

Crouse, who does not speak Spanish well, has had trouble working with lawyers. Depending on the method of counting, Jiménez is the fifth or sixth lawyer who Crouse thought was handling the case. He has been handicapped because he has been in jail for more than six months. His term of preventative detention recently was extended another three months.

The case has been watched closely by persons in the Playas del Coco area because Crouse spoke out against Villegas in a public meeting called to find ways to cut down on the criminal activity in the Guanacaste beach town.

Crouse called cops when he said Villegas threatened him, and police came and took the man to the police station. But police let Villegas, still apparently intoxicated, leave the station about two hours later, and he went back directly to Crouse’s bar.

Playas del Coco residents also have wondered why the police let the man go considering his condition and recent confrontation with the bar owner. Others suggest that police are anxious to convict Crouse of a crime to cover up the fact that they made a mistake in letting Villegas go.

Other sources in Coco have said that Crouse probably should not come back to the town because the extended family of the victim bears him ill will. Crouse talks frequently by telephone to reporters. He has said he has no alternative because he has built a life in the area.

Jiménez has said that Crouse does not appear to be the owner of anything in the area because what he has is held in Costa Rican companies and in the name of former owners. That is one reason the court has not let him out, she said.

A new system of traffic lights has sprouted up along the new pedestrian mall from Parque Nacional to the Costa Rican courts complex.

A pedestrian pushes a button, the light turns red for oncoming traffic and the vehicles actually stop. At least during the daytime.

But this guy did not have time to wait.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Dam foes in south
skip political meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An expected meeting of indigenous leaders and national politicians in the community of Rey Curré did not take place earlier this week.

A leader of the Rey Curré Indian tribe said that the meeting was called off because other Indian groups wanted to participate and to bring up a number of other issues. The leader, Daniel Leiva, said that other groups may have met with politicians but his group did not.

The Indian groups are fighting against a plan that would put up a dam and cover their traditional land with a big lake. The project is by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the electric company.

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.

Leiva said that the other Indian groups represented interest at cross purposes to those of Rey Curré and that these groups were going to use the Rey Curré meeting as a mechanism to advance their causes. He also said the groups were going to present proposals that the leaders of Rey Curré had not seen or discussed and that these proposals would confuse the communication established by the tribe with the politicians.

Leiva said the Rey Curré felt tricked by the agenda of the meeting.

At least two national deputies from the Partido Acción Ciudadana were going to attend the meeting. But the party said that its leader, Ottón Solís never had plans to go. The Rey Curré leaders had thought he would come.

Instead, another meeting just with the Indian groups affected locally by the Boruca project will be set for March 15 to clear up the strategy for fighting the dam, he said.

"First we are going to begin to establish the rights over our land, with the help of non-government organizations that protect the environment and the fundamental civil rights," said Leiva. He said the Indians were sick of 30 years of excuses and foot dragging by the government in giving the Indians clear title to their lands.

Leiva said that the Indians have filed a plea for help before the Costa Rica Supreme Court seeking to reinforce their rights over their land against the efforts by the electric institute to take the properties. That motion was filed in November, he said.

New patrol boat
has historic name

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A heroine of the only war in which Costa Rica fought is being reborn as a boat to patrol the national waters.

The heroine is Francisca Carrasco, nicknamed "Pancha." The boat is the "Pancha Carrasco" that will be delivered to the Costa Rican Coast Guards by the United States in a ceremony Saturday in Golfito.

The ceremony will be at 8:30 p.m. with President Miguel Angel Rodríguez, Rogelio Ramos, the minister of security, and John J. Danilovich, the U.S. ambassador.

The U.S. Embassy announced Wednesday the name of the boat and the brief details of the ceremony.

The United States periodically gives Costa Rica patrol boats as part of its efforts to encourage the country to continue the enforcement of anti-drug laws.

Francisca Carrasco joined the staff of President Juan Rafael Mora in 1856 as a cook during the war against the U.S. filibuster William Walker. She soon became his secretary because she had been trained to read and write. She is said to have killed a soldier, took over his field gun and used it against the enemy during one engagement. She was given a general’s funeral at her death in 1890.

Big boost asked
in foreign aid 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rich countries should double their aid budgets over the next five years, cut their agricultural subsidies, open their markets and help developing countries build their capacity to govern, World Bank President James Wolfensohn says.

Speaking Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center here, Wolfensohn also called on donor countries to fund the World Bank's concessionary lending institution, the International Development Association, for the next three years.

Doubling aid budgets to 0.5 percent of gross national product would still be less than the 0.7 percent previously agreed to by global leaders, Wolfensohn said. A five-year, phased-in doubling would raise an additional $50 billion and reverse a 15-year decline in the portion of national income going to aid, he said.

He said the $350 billion a year that rich countries spend on agricultural subsidies is six times what they spend on aid to poor countries.

During questioning following his remarks, Wolfensohn said that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 the Bank has shifted its approach to development.

Prior to Sept. 11, he said, development was focused on countries that were making progress in growth and governance. Since Sept. 11, the approach has been to consider "how many more Afghanistans" there may be in the world where terrorism can breed.

Wolfensohn said it is "illogical" to slam the door on "badly led" countries where systems have broken down. He said that the bank should intervene where possible, adding that 500 million people live in "poor performing states."

Increasing aid will "increase the security of all of us, rich and poor," he said.

Powell asks change
on Colombia policy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States must change its policy on Colombia to help it fight leftist rebels, as well as the illegal drug trade.

Powell says the United States must examine alternatives to help save Colombia's democracy from terrorists and narcotics traffickers. Powell says U.S. officials are engaged in an intense debate over the current policy that limits aid to Colombia to counter-narcotics efforts. 

He says officials will present their conclusions to Congress.

Some lawmakers have warned that aiding Colombia's fight against rebels could lead to involvement of U.S. forces in their 38-year civil war. Powell says there are no scenarios under consideration that would involve an active U.S. combat role. U.S. aid to Bogota currently totals more than $1 billion.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution that supports more flexibility on U.S. aid to Colombia. It reflects sympathy for Colombian President Andres Pastrana, who last month ended peace talks with his country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The government in Bogota later issued a statement praising Washington for its support of Colombia's counterinsurgency efforts.

Powell's comments come one day after Maj. Gen. Gary Speer, the acting commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told a U.S. Senate panel the current level of U.S. support for Colombia is inadequate.

Speer said without more aid, Colombia's military will be unable to re-establish a safe and secure environment for the country's citizens. President Pastrana has requested that U.S. aid be used to fight the guerrillas known as the FARC. Colombian officials blame the FARC for several killings and kidnappings following the collapse of the sporadic, three-year peace efforts.

The Colombian conflict also involves a smaller leftist rebel group, the National Liberation Army, as well as anti-guerrilla paramilitaries.

Antidrug strategy
called good plan

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The nations of the Western Hemisphere have devised a good plan to work together on fighting illegal drugs, but "what we need to see now" from that plan is a significant drop in the production of illegal drugs and the number of drug users, says White House official Bradley Hittle.

In remarks Wednesday, Hittle said that drug-policy coordination through the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, a tool launched by the Organization of American States to measure anti-drug efforts throughout the hemisphere, is the "most hopeful progress" the region has made in many years of combating drugs. 

Under the new approach, no single country should be blamed as the source of all illicit drugs, nor any other country singled out as the sole consumer of those substances, Hittle said. For instance, he said the United States, generally thought of as a place where illegal drugs are consumed rather than generated, is now dealing with the reality of increased production of marijuana and methamphetamine within its borders.

Hittle is drug-source country support branch chief at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He said the Bush Administration has pledged itself to reduce by 10 percent over the next three years the number of drug users in the United States and to achieve a 25-percent reduction rate among users over the next five years.

Mexico-U.S. border
may be quicker

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The director of U.S. Homeland Security says Mexican and U.S. officials are considering speeding up legal traffic across the border, after heightened security following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks slowed crossings to a crawl. 

Tom Ridge spoke to reporters in Mexico City Tuesday, where he is meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox for several days of talks on security issues. He says the United States and Mexico agree border security must be improved. 

To eliminate long waits at border security checks, he proposes pre-approving frequent border crossers. He is also promoting the controversial step of combining several agencies that deploy personnel at borders, including Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Border Patrol. The idea has met with strong opposition in Washington. 

Business, labor
opposed to Chavez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Leading businesses and labor unions have formed a rare alliance to create a 10-point plan for democratic change that urges President Hugo Chavez to step down. 

Leaders of the private business association, Fedecamaras, and the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, announced their accord on Tuesday in Caracas. 

It sets out strategic goals for government, such as fighting poverty, maintaining national unity and civilian democratic rule. It also has the backing of local Roman Catholic Church officials. 

President Chavez faces growing opposition over his policies. He was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty, anti-corruption platform, but his approval rating has plunged in recent months. Critics have accused him of seeking to impose a Cuban-style dictatorship. 

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