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These stories were published March 10, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 49
Jo Stuart
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Final toll is nine dead
Lone suspect surrenders to end hostage ordeal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A relieved nation  applauded its police forces and mourned six dead citizens as a 28-hour hostage situation at a bank branch office came to a close.

The only living suspect in the bungled bank robbery, Yorlini Hurtado, surrendered to police about 7:30 Wednesday night as a light rain fell in Santa Elena de Monteverde. His surrender freed the last living hostage, Elizabeth Artavia Solis, who walked from the battered bank building seemingly unharmed.

Inside the bank were six bodies, including one of a dead bandit. In all, nine persons died.

Fuerza Pública officers, agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad worked all afternoon and into the evening to convince the lone holdout to surrender.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, noted that the negotiations with the robbery suspect were carried out for six hours by the friends and co-workers of a po0liceman who was fatally wounded trying to take control of the bank building. Ramos lauded the professionalism of the officers.

The policeman, Oscar Quesada, 44, received the fatal wound about 1:30 p.m. when he and other members of the Unidad Intervención Policial, the tactical squad, tried to force their way into the building. The suspect is being blamed for killing the officer with an AK-47 military-style rifle.

The security ministry noted in a late night news release that the incursion into the bank building was authorized by President Abel Pacheco. The Unidad Intervención is attached to the Ministerio de la Presidencia.

The abortive robbery took place about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday when four or five heavily armed and masked men approached the bank building on a corner in the community some 3 kilometers (about two miles) north and east of the better known tourist destination of Monteverde.

Although the full details of what took place are not yet know, it appears that two private bank guards, one of them being Alvaro Castro, realized that a robbery was taking place and fired on the group of bandits. Two died on the street and their bodies lay in full view of the television and newspaper cameras for hours. The remaining two or three robbers blasted holes in the glass doors of the bank and entered.

One robber died of bullet wounds inside. The five dead customers or bank employees are believe to have died in the initial shootout 

when the robbers fired blindly into the door and building.

Castro played dead and escaped from the bank building hours later. 

During the night a number of customers and bank employees who had been hostages escaped through the shattered front door. A total of 28 persons had been in the bank at one point, and Ramos credited the police agencies with saving most of their lives.

The bank building contains one large lobby with teller windows and several smaller rooms, including one containing the vault. Hostages fled when the lone bandit was in another part of the building.

A 23-year-old Canadian, David Sander, was one of the hostages who escaped early Wednesday. A spokesperson for Hospital México in San José said that Sander, shot in the stomach, had gone through surgery and was stable and recovering.

Ramos also praised the operation of an air bridge between Santa Elena, some 180 kms. (111 miles) from San José, and Hospital México in the Central Valley for saving lives. Until rain came Wednesday afternoon a continuous stream of reinforcements and supplies came by helicopter and those more badly wounded and could be treated at the local clinic were evacuated.

Still unclear is the number of original bank robbers. If there were five robbers, one has escaped.

Tourism groups promise
help for Monteverde area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tourism ministry and the tourism chamber of commerce emphasized Wednesday that the hostage situation in Santa Elena was a local event and does not represent a risk for tourists who visit the country.

The ministry, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, said that the Monteverde area, one of the most experienced in tourism in the country, would receive full support to sidestep and future negative implications.

"Events like this and even more serious take place daily in the whole world because these are human problems more than those of a country or a region," said a statement released Wednesday night.

The Camera Nacional de Turismo and the institute both expressed sadness over what hand happened 

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Concern mounts
for missing tourist

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friends and Officials in Tamarindo are beginning to lose hope on finding the 24-year-old Australian student who disappeared Friday night in the beachside community.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, the
student, Brendan Dobbins was reported missing by several of his classmates over the weekend after Dobbins failed to meet up with them in San José for their flight home.

Dobbins, a senior at the University of Florida, traveled to Costa Rica with several of his classmates over spring break. 

The Cruz Roja spent the last few days scanning the beach with the help of Dobbins’ classmates who stayed in 

Brendan Dobbins
Costa Rica to help find their friend. After several days of searching, officials say that they are beginning to fear the worst. 

According to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Dobbins only had a small amount of local currency when he vanished and had left his passport, credit cards and air ticket at the Hotel Portofino where the group was staying. 

The paper contacted Dobbins’ sister-in-law Bronwyn Cooke who claimed that leaving without tell his friends would have been completely out of character for Dobbins. 

According to the Cruz Roja, Dobbins’ father recently departed from Melbourne, Australia, and will be arriving in Costa Rica to help search for his son. 

According to Officials in Tamarindo, Dobbins was last seen walking down the beach at 7 a.m. with a local acquaintance who is also missing. 

U.S. cloning ban may
help with in-vitro fight 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United Nation’s recent ban on human cloning breathes new life into Costa Rica’s anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research groups.

The U.N. vote held Tuesday followed a four-year debate among member countries over the legality of cloning. Before the vote, Costa Rica and the United States had backed a full ban against all forms of cloning.

The U.N. declaration against human cloning is non-binding and therefore does not carry any legal ramifications. It does, however, call upon all countries to prohibit the practice of cloning.

The decision is very important for Costa Rica as the country nears a decision from the Inter-American Commission on Human rights as to whether or not the country’s ban on in-vitro fertilization will head to trial. The commission will look at the U.N.’s declaration before it passes down its decision.

Cloning, in-vitro fertilization, and stem cell research have all become important international issues over the last decade. Pro-research advocates argue that the scientific benefits from these types of practices could save thousands of lives every year. Pro-life groups, however, argue that thousands of unborn children in the form of embryos will be destroyed.

Next two soccer matches
will not be before fans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The International Football Federation has ordered Costa Rica to play its next two World Cup qualifying matches behind closed doors because of unruly fan behavior.

The federation’s disciplinary committee made the decision after fans threw objects onto the field in the first match.

During Costa Rica's 2-1 loss to Mexico at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in Tibás, fans threw objects at opposing players, including water bottles, batteries, coins, and fruit.

In addition to the suspensions Costa Rica was slapped with a $17,000 fine. Costa Rica has three days to appeal the sanctions.

Saprissa and Kansas City
battle to a tie game

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican soccer team went north to Kansas City to play a U.S. team Wednesday night in a hemispheric tournament. The game ended as a draw after neither side was able to score a goal.

Deportivo Saprissa based out of San José traveled to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Kansas City Wizards in the first round of the Confederation of North Central American and Caribbean Association Football tournament. 

The Wizards earned a bid in the tournament by winning the Major League Soccer tournament in the U.S. in 2004. 

Saprissa finished second in the hemispheric tournament last year when it lost to fellow Costa Rican team Liga Deportiva Alajuelense.

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Couple becomes example for other possible expats
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local couple received fame from Newsweek for their move to Costa Rica. And the country itself received a valuable endorsement.

The couple, Randy Berg and his wife Rhonda, moved down to Costa Rica in 2001. The U.S. magazine Newsweek featured them in the March 14 issue as part of an article about baby boomers moving to new and foreign lands. Berg, however, says that famous is a word that he shies away from.

"Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame right?" he said over the phone Wednesday evening. "Actually we were interviewed by Investors Business Daily in 2004," he said. "Every time someone shows up to interview us, I just figure it’s a joke though."

In 2001 Berg and his wife sold their printing business in Minnesota and ventured down to Costa Rica in search of a retirement paradise. Instead they found difficult dealings with realtors and the urge to head back home.

Four years later, the Bergs have dedicated their Costa Rican lives to helping new expats with their company, CR ? Home Realty. Through their company, Berg said, they help newcomers find their way around the potholes in Costa Rican living. 

"We try to offer people the chance to see what life in Costa Rica is really like," he said. "Sometimes after speaking with us, people find that they hate the country and want to leave. That’s better then buying a house and then finding out that you hate it though."

Berg says that he has tried to base his new business on the principle of honesty. "We show people our house, tell them about building a house, tell them to try renting in an area before they decide to build there," he said. "People need to see these things before they move down here."

The business has postponed the Berg’s original plan to retire. "I came down here to retire," Berg said. "Eventually I will do that, but right now I’m still having fun." The article is posted to the real estate firm's Web site.

Groups here denounce use of force in Guatemalan anti-free trade protest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of Costa Rican labor unions has asked Guatemala to cease actions attempting to silence the voice of the Guatemalan people on the free trade treaty with the United States.

The request was in an open letter to the Guatemalan ambassador to Costa Rica, José Luis Chea Urruela. The message denounced what it said was the Guatemalan governments attempt to silence its citizens during an anti-free trade treaty demonstration in Guatemala City.

During the demonstration, held Tuesday morning, Guatemalan police used tear gas and water cannons against protestors who were trying to prevent the Guatemalan legislature from ratifying the Central American free trade treaty. The protestors met againWednesday morning in the Guatemalan capital
and received similar treatment.

In the letter, the Movimiento Cívico Nacional cited the Universal Declaration of the Human rights, and said that groups have the right to protest decisions made by the government. The letter claimed that the police actions and the use of force were a violation of the demonstrators'  human rights. 

The Movimiento Cívico Nacional is an umbrella organization for a number of unions and groups that oppose the free trade treaty. The unions include those for taxi drivers, public employees and regional associations.

The Central American free trade treaty has received ample press since the New Year and will likely continue to as deadlines for referendums and legislative decisions in several countries draw near. 

The Costa Rican Asamblea Legislativa has yet to receive the treaty from Casa Presidencial.

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Press freedom is topic of weekend meeting in Panamá
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? More than 350 participants are expected at an inter-American meeting on the status of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere, to be held in Panamá Friday through Monday.

The Inter-American Press Association, which is hosting the meeting in Panamá City, said topics to be discussed at the event include advances in case law on press freedom, successful electronic media, trends in tabloid newspapers around the world, legislative bills on access to information, legal and economic measures that restrict journalists, and the imprisonment and murder of journalists in some countries of the region.

Participants at the meeting include Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times; George Brock, editor of The Times of London, who will discuss developments in the British newspaper industry; and Panamanian President Martín Torrijos, who will inaugurate the event.

The press association, a Miami-based group which promotes freedom of expression in the Americas, said a particularly important highlight of the meeting will be the possible participation of dissident Cuban journalist Raul Rivero, regional vice chairman of the Cuban Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. 

The association’s statement said Rivero, who was recently released from prison in Cuba, has expressed

his desire to attend the Panamá meeting and is seeking the necessary travel permits to make the trip.

The regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro released Rivero from prison in November 2004, along with three other dissidents who had been jailed the previous year in a broad crackdown against opponents of the regime. The Castro regime had sentenced 75 dissidents in April 2003 to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years, after convicting them on charges of working with the U.S. government to undermine Castro's government.  U.S. officials and the dissidents denied the charge.

The United States and the international community have called on Castro to free dozens of other dissidents still imprisoned in Cuba.

The statement said that Rivero's release was a "significant victory for the cause of freedom of expression and of the press in Cuba."  But it warned that Rivero's release was not enough, adding that nobody should remain behind bars under the pretext of having committed a crime for the sole reason of expressing his or her ideas or for criticizing the Castro government.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that the only offense of jailed Cuban journalists was that they were "doing their jobs."  That nonpartisan group reiterated its appeal to Cuban authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists, and to allow them to work freely."

Pact renewed with U.S. to protect archaeological treasures in El Salvador
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and El Salvador have exchanged diplomatic notes extending an agreement that imposes U.S. import restrictions on Pre-Columbian archaeological objects originating in El Salvador. 

This action extends the pact for an additional five years and sets new benchmarks for achieving improvements in the protection and preservation of El Salvador's cultural heritage. H. Douglas Barclay, U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, and Salvadoran Foreign Minister Francisco Lainez signed the agreement.

First signed in 1995, the agreement is in response to a request from El Salvador seeking assistance from the United States in curbing pillage and illicit trade in objects that represent its Pre-Columbian heritage. El Salvador made the request under the terms of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. Archaeological sites from throughout El Salvador have been severely damaged by looting. Such activity results in the irretrievable loss of information about the cultures that thrived there from approximately 1700 B.C. to 1550 A.D. 

A final determination to extend the agreement followed a finding that the pillage of archaeological material continues to place the cultural heritage of El Salvador in jeopardy. El Salvador was the first country to enter into such an agreement with the United States. 

El Salvador is living up to its end of the agreement by re-established a national museum of anthropology that had been ruined by earthquake damage. Since it was 

re-opened in 2000, the David J. Guzman Museum has become a national focal point for heritage preservation and has developed an archaeological atlas of the country, said an announcement by the U.S. State Department.

El Salvador's National Council for Culture and the Arts, which oversees the national museum, continues to reach the public through regional museums and houses of culture thus promoting the value of protecting the national cultural heritage, said the U.S. State Department. In addition, the pact continues to serve as a framework for professional exchanges between the United States and El Salvador. 

Any object subject to the import restriction may enter the United States if accompanied by an export certificate issued by El Salvador or if accompanied by documentation demonstrating it left El Salvador prior to the imposition of these import restrictions in 1995, according to the pact. Objects originating in the Cara Sucia archaeological region of El Salvador have been restricted since 1987.

The long-term goals of this and similar agreements the United States has with other countries are to encourage good preservation practices such as the development of appropriate heritage policies; promote museums; professional training; and public education, said the State Department. 

Cultural tourism development and international access to cultural property through the interchange of materials for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes are also promoted, the department said.

U.S. seeks new hearings for Mexicans on death row due to consular lapse
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The Bush administration is asking the State of Texas to hold new hearings for 51 Mexicans on death row, who say they were denied consular assistance in violation of international law.
The move is in response to a 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice, which said Texas officials failed to notify the Mexicans of their right to talk to consular officials shortly after their arrests.

U.S. officials said in a recent Supreme Court filing that complying with the World Court's decision will help protect the interests of U.S. citizens who are abroad and underscore that America has a commitment to international law.

The decision comes just weeks ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing in the case of Jose Medellin, one of five gang members sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two Texas girls in 1993.

Jo Stuart
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