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These stories were published Tuesday, March 12, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 50
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photos
Farmers rally for land and subsidies at a major intersection in La Sabana

Handcuffed man, a robbery suspect, awaits the arrival of the would-be victim.


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Demonstration and crash
bottle up traffic in city

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The farmers were blocking a major intersection. A minor accident between buses clogged up the downtown. The pickpockets were active. And a robbery suspect got beat up.

Your basic Monday in San José. And the drivers handled it well.

In Sabana Sur in front of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadaría an estimated 250 farmers blocked the major intersection at lunch hour demanding that the government provide them with more land and more subsidies.

A spokesman said that this was the start of a series of strikes by farmer organizations that would take place all over the country. Rice farmers are upset because this traditional product can be imported at about half the price of local rice. But the spokesman said that farmers from all types of agriculture were involved in the demonstration, which had diminished to just a few individuals in time for evening rush hour.

The demonstration appeared to be a warmup for likely reactions from the farming community when details of the Free Trade Area of the Americas or a Central American free trade pact becomes public. Such international agreements frown on subsidies.

Two buses "kissed," to use the Costa Rican word, on Calle 7 about 4 p.m., and traffic was tied up because both vehicles blocked both lanes of the street between Avenida 2 and Avenida Principal. San Pedro-bound buses had to turn around and leave by another route from their main bus stop.

It was at that time a man tried to grab a cell telephone off a distracted passerby. But the man was not so distracted that he did not give chase and knock the would-be thief to the ground, where he remained until police arrived. 

Meanwhile, further up the pedestrian mall two female pickpockets tried to lift valuables from the purse of a North American tourist. She caught them.

Your basic Monday in San José.

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Evidence for new El Niño continues to pile up
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. scientists report that ocean surface temperatures warmed 2 degrees Celsius in the eastern equatorial Pacific near the South American coast in February, an additional sign that the Pacific Ocean is heading toward an El Niño condition.

A full-blown El Niño could mean seriously reduced rainfall in some sections of Costa Rica.

In a Thursday press release, Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said it is still too early to determine the potential strength of the El Niño, "but it is likely these warming conditions in the tropical Pacific will continue until early 2003."

Peruvian officials report that ocean warming has had significant impacts on the fishing industry in the region, another indicator of a developing El Niño.

Peruvian officials report that ocean warming has had significant impacts on the fishing industry in the region, another indicator of a developing El Niño.

El Niño episodes, which occur roughly every four to five years and can last up to 18 months, have important consequences for weather around the globe. 

Among these consequences are increased rainfall across the southern tier of the United States and in Peru, which has caused destructive flooding, and drought in Indonesia and Australia. It has been nearly four years since the end of the 1997-1998 El Niño.

More information on El Niño can be found at the following Web site: 


Woman got no help from embassy, newspaper says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman pulled off a bus and detained by Costa Rican immigrations officers told a Florida newspaper that she called the U.S. Embassy for help during the ordeal but was told there was nothing U.S. diplomats could do, according to an article that appeared Monday.

The woman is Patricia Lynn Sultan, whose story was reported here Feb. 19.  However, at that time, quoting her husband, the news story said that she was not allowed to make calls, in addition to being treated roughly.

Mrs. Sultan was deported from Costa Rica in early January because her tourist visa was expired. As a result of deportation she may not return for 10 years, under Costa Rican law.

The story in the Florida paper, the Naples News, recounted the woman’s experiences of being taken off a San José-bound bus in Puntarenas, being handcuffed and then moved around Costa Rica for two days by immigrations officers.

She and her husband own a hotel and restaurant in San Miguel on the Nicoya Peninsula.  She was traveling to Juan Santamaría Airport to be with her ailing mother in Florida.

In the news article, Mrs. Sultan is quoted as saying that U.S. Embassy representatives told her that if she weren't in any immediate danger, there was nothing they could do. Mrs. Sultan was not aware that she could have appealed her deportation during a short period after her arrest.

Peter Brennan, a counselor for public affairs at the embassy was quoted in the story saying that Mrs. Sultan was one of a handful of U.S. citizens arrested by immigration that week. 

The woman said U.S. Embassy representatives told her that if she weren't in any immediate danger, there was nothing they could do, according to the newspaper.

In an e-mail Monday Brennan said that the Florida news story contained misrepresentations and inconsistencies, although he did not elaborate.

"What we demand of the host government is fair and equal treatment for our citizens under the laws of the country," said Brennan, adding: 

"The American Consulate is here to advise and assist American citizens in these situations and ensure that they are not being mistreated or treated unfairly, but being American does not entitle us to any special status or more favorable treatment."

Mrs. Sultan was accompanied for a time by about eight apparently illegal Nicaraguan citizens who also were taken off the bus.

Sultan, who remains in San Miguel, said in the Feb. 19 story that he did not seek special treatment because he and his wife are U.S. citizens. 

He said that immigration agents should "show some kind of respect for human beings," whether the persons involved are Nicaraguan, Chinese or Americans. 

Use of nuks not likely,
U.S. military reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. military is downplaying concerns that Washington may be lowering its threshold for using nuclear weapons. 

A classified Pentagon review document suggests that non-nuclear countries suspected of building chemical or biological weapons could be targeted. The document also cites the need for developing new, low-yield nuclear weapons. 

Pentagon officials declined Monday to discuss secret details of military contingency planning. They did deny that any country is targeted for a nuclear attack or that new weapons are being planned. And they said the Pentagon is planning for what it calls a broad range of unforeseen threats. 

Again, without discussing details, the officials said this includes nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities, such as missile defense, advanced conventional forces, and better intelligence. 

Russia is seeking a new arms agreement with the United States and says if the the reports of U.S. nuclear plans are true, it would cause regret throughout the international community. 

During a visit to London Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney calls the Pentagon's nuclear option review a routine procedure. He said the United States does not target any country with nuclear weapons on a day-to-day basis. 

Ashcroft asks OAS
to tighten security

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is urging member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS) to adopt several specific measures to strengthen the fight against terrorism, including enhanced communication, information-sharing and extradition procedures.

Speaking here Monday at the fourth OAS meeting of Western Hemisphere ministers of justice and attorneys general, Ashcroft said it is necessary to find ways to reduce the likelihood of future terrorist attacks, to investigate terrorist organizations collectively and effectively, and to combat other forms of transnational crime.

To improve direct communication among regional law enforcement authorities, Ashcroft urged OAS member states to immediately identify points of contact for extradition, mutual legal assistance, and cybercrime, as called for by earlier recommendations, and to expand that mandate to include new issues such as terrorism.

Noting that the OAS has already created an Internet site designed to promote mutual understanding through increased familiarity with each member state's laws and procedures, Ashcroft called for expansion of this web site to serve as a conduit for exchanging information on such transnational crimes as terrorism and money laundering.

Western Hemisphere nations have made "enormous strides" in modernizing the way in which extraditions are handled, Ashcroft said, expressing the hope that "every country represented here will work to sustain our progress by removing obstacles to bringing criminals to justice in the jurisdiction where they will be most effectively and appropriately prosecuted."

Ashcroft also urged all the nations represented at the conference to sign, ratify, and enact the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and the OAS Conventions on Corruption, Mutual Legal Assistance, and Prisoner Transfer, and to negotiate the proposed OAS Anti-Terrorism Convention.

Modified food pact
reached in Japan

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

YOKOHAMA, Japan — An international task force of food experts has reached agreement on the final draft of principles for the evaluation of foods derived from biotechnology.

The U.N.-sponsored Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology, meeting here, agreed on principles that provide a framework for evaluating the safety and nutritional aspects of genetically modified foods. The principles define the need for a pre-market safety assessment of all such foods on a case-by-case basis.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization report that the task force also reached "a very important new agreement" concerning the tracing of genetically modified products to make their withdrawal from the market easier when a risk to human health has been identified.

The agreement could also mark a breakthrough in international negotiations concerning the use of tracing systems in relation to food in international trade.

British citizen heads
for Georgia execution 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JACKSON, Ga. — Despite pleas for mercy from the British government, the European Union and prominent opponents of capital punishment, a U.S. state of Georgia pardons board has refused to block the execution of a British citizen. 

Tracy Housel, 43, is scheduled to die by lethal injection here late today. Housel was sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of a female hitchhiker. He killed the woman after a terrifying two-week crime spree across the United States.

Housel's supporters had formally requested that the death sentence be commuted to life in prison, citing mitigating factors including brain damage he allegedly suffered as a child. 

Mexico’s big catch
gets judicial hearing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The reputed head of Mexico's most violent and powerful drug cartel has made his first court appearance, two days after Mexican troops captured him in a pre-dawn raid in the city of Puebla. 

Benjamin Arellano Felix, however, refused comment Monday as charges of bribery, drug smuggling and criminal association were read against him at Mexico's high-security La Palma prison. 

Arellano Felix was wanted in Mexico and the United States on charges he ran the Arellano Felix cartel in the Mexican border town of Tijuana. Authorities say the cartel was responsible for shipping tons of drugs into the United States and that it killed an estimated 300 people in an effort to control the cocaine and marijuana trade along the joint border. 

Arellano Felix was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10 Most Wanted list. The U.S. Justice Department is expected to seek his extradition for trial in the United States. 

Authorities also say Arellano Felix has confirmed his brother, Ramon, the other leading figure in the cartel, was killed in a shootout with police last month in Mazatlan. The body has not been recovered. 

The arrest of Benjamin Arellano Felix comes just days before President Bush heads to Mexico for meetings with President Vicente Fox. 

Earlier Monday, Bush telephoned Fox to congratulate him on the capture. The State Department says the capture is the most significant arrest ever of a wanted trafficker in Mexico. 

Two lights pierce
sky at tower site

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — Two powerful beacons of light are soaring into the night sky here at the site where terrorist attacks destroyed the two World Trade Center towers six months ago.

The towers of light are meant to fill the void where the two buildings once stood. The lights were turned on late Monday. 

At the White House Monday, President Bush paid tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks and said the anti-terror war has just entered its second phase. 

Standing in front of the flags of 170 nations, Bush called on the world to deny sanctuary to terrorists. He also singled out praise for Germany, Denmark and Afghanistan — nations that have lost soldiers in the war.

Earlier Monday, New Yorkers observed two moments of silence at the exact time six months ago that terrorist hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center towers.

In Shanksville, Pa., bells tolled where a hijacked plane apparently headed for Washington crashed. And outside Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a memorial service at the Pentagon, which was also struck by a hijacked jet.

Colombia requested
to protect journalists

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — A press freedom group based here is asking the Colombian government to protect seven journalists who have received death threats in recent days. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement Monday, calling on Colombian authorities to do everything possible to protect the reporters and bring the suspects to justice.  The CPJ says the threatened journalists work for several major Colombian media organizations and have covered high-profile drug investigations. 

The press group also says the reporters have been accused of publishing "lies" prompting the investigations and told to leave the country or be killed. 

The CPJ says at least three of the reporters are in hiding and that all have been provided with government bodyguards. The Colombian Attorney General's office is investigating the threats.  The Andean nation is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists. 

A recent State Department report on human rights says Colombian journalists are threatened and intimidated primarily by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups.  The report also says journalists there practice self-censorship to avoid reprisals.

Nicaragua arrests
three former officials

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Officials say a former presidential spokesman and two others have been arrested on charges of diverting more than $1 million from the government in a state television deal. 

Attorney General Francisco Fiallos says former spokesman Roberto Duarte was taken into custody Monday. Duarte worked for former President Arnoldo Aleman, whose administration was accused of widespread corruption. 

Officials also say they are seeking the former Mexican ambassador to Nicaragua, Ricardo Galan, for his alleged involvement in the deal, which fraudulently awarded media contracts. Reports say the ambassador recently left Nicaragua and his whereabouts is not known. Officials say the charges against the group include fraud and embezzlement. 

The scandal comes two months after President Enrique Bolanos took office, pledging to fight corruption. 

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