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These stories were published Friday, March 12, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 51
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Costa Rica joins with Spain in mourning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco declared two days of national mourning for Thursday and today to commemorate the dead and dying of the terrorist attack in Spain.

Pacheco also ordered the nation’s flags to be flown at half staff. He signed a decree about 11:30 a.m. Thursday to that effect.

The emotional and cultural links between Costa Rica and Spain are strong. But even stronger are the personal ties by Costa Rican officials. Last March 3, for example, Pacheco was the guest of the king and queen of Spain, Juan Carlos I and Sofía, at the royal palace there. Pacheco and other officials were on a trade and tourism mission.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has visited Costa Rica, and the Prince of Asturias, Felipe de Borbón, the heir to the throne, attended Pacheco’s inauguration.

Some 192 persons died and more than 1,400 suffered injuries when dynamite bombs exploded at rush hour on Spanish commuter trains Thursday morning. No Costa Ricans were believed to be among the dead or injured.

The Spanish government blamed Basque separatists for what is being called the worst  terrorist attack in its history. But there are other signs that suggest al-Qaida and its supporters may be responsible.

Spain is a close American ally and part of the U.S.-led military coalition that invaded Iraq. 


 
In search of coffee beans in the Central Valley
When George called me on Sunday to ask if I would be interested in taking part in some picture taking on a coffee plantation, I said yes. George works for a travel agency specializing in nature tours and they are doing a new brochure extolling the attractions of the Meseta Central. 

Also called the Central Valley, the Meseta Central is the area surrounding San Jose where the majority of Costa Ricans live. It is peppered with small towns and villages and is the center of agriculture. It is really a series of valleys between rolling hills. The cities of Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago and Turrialba are in the Central Valley.

My job was simply to be in some of the pictures that professional nature and wildlife photographer, Kevin Schafer would be taking. Not having been out of the city in a while, I looked forward to the excursion. I also think the Central Valley’s attractions should be seen and appreciated by more visitors. After all, when you think about it, a view from a beach (if you are facing the ocean) is about the same wherever you are. 

The vistas in the Central Valley change with just about ever curve in the highway. Highway? Make that winding gravel, maybe tarred two-lane road. George picked me up around 7:30 and we went to his office, Horizontes near Paseo Colon, to meet with his co-worker, Jessica. Because his little SUV was overheating, he asked Jessica if we could go in her car. Since her car was being fixed, she had her dad’s very big SUV. As it turned out, it was a fortunate set of circumstances. It made for a far more comfortable drive.

Jessica was going to be the coffee picker. She is 21 years, an overachiever, lovely to look at and a delight to talk to. She is bi-lingual in English and Spanish and learned Portuguese because her father went to Brazil and she bet him she could learn it faster than he. She has a degree in hotel management and is studying business administration before going into marketing. She can quote more Shakespeare than I can. 

We drove to the hotel Xanadi where Kevin and his wife Marty with niece and nephew were waiting. Then off we went in two SUVs in search of a coffee field with coffee plants to pick and photograph. That part turned out to be elusive. 

When we stopped at a coffee plantation to pick up a guide, we learned that most of the coffee had already been picked. It ripens in December and January. Coffee has been growing in the Meseta Central since before 1800, starting with an Arabica blend first grown in Saudi Arabia. The central plateau has near-perfect soil and climate conditions for growing coffee. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

A.M. Costa Rica file photo 
The elusive coffee plant and beans

Our search for the perfect coffee plant involved much stopping and alighting from our vehicles. I became proficient in climbing in and out of an SUV (sometimes the doors are a good two and a half feet off the ground). During our stops, while Kevin was professionally eyeing the views, I got to find out a little about him and Marty. They have one of those rare and heartwarming love stories of two people who had contentedly given up any hope of finding that perfect partner when they met some 14 years ago. Marty was the editor of a wildlife magazine and Kevin, she said, was the first photographer to come into her office who didn’t talk about himself. They both are avid naturalists. 

We never did find a plant with more than a few red beans. Jessica didn’t get a chance to play the coffee picker, nor I the tourist observing her. I posed looking at a few blossoms, but it was a lovely mini holiday for me, getting out of the city, breathing the clean country air, enjoying the drive through some incredible scenery (George is an excellent driver so I didn’t have to instruct him from the back seat). 

And as happens with many vacations, large and small, it finally was the people I met who made it most memorable. 

 
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A personal word
We need to fight back
against spam and viruses

By Jay Brodell
editor of  A.M. Costa Rica staff

The e-mail note said that the link I had sent him did not work.

Of course I had send out no link, and the message  I had received suggested that people still are opening unknown e-mail attachments.

The attachments these days are likely to contain a self-replicating virus that can zip through a Windows-based operating system and mail itself out by the thousands.

This is the junk that has been cluttering up the e-mail systems.

The virus only exists because some people continue to open up unknown attachments. The major viruses out these, MyDoom and Netsky, can only spread that way.

Of course, the virus creators are clever. They make you want to open the attachment. 

Remember the more simpler times when a virus message might say "My pretty girl friend" or "This is my new game. You are my first player."

Now the messages purport to be form the e-mail administrator of your Internet server. You must open this attachment and fill out a form. This was the link that did not work for my e-mail messenger. That wasn’t important because the virus already was in his computer gobbling e-mail addresses.

Over the last few days people have been sending out nasty messages, but because the viruses forge return e-mail addresses randomly, the virus did not come from where the message says it did.

A good sign Thursday was that server after server were rejecting virus-infected e-mail messages. That showed the technical support people were beginning to get their acts together.

A few readers have commented at the degradation of the e-mail system. That is a fact. Between Nigerians and Wealthy African princesses to people selling mail-order medications, the in-box is getting cluttered.

But we cannot surrender a valuable tool to the spammers and the bored 14-year-old high school kids. 

• You fight back by installing good virus detection software.

• You fight back by never buying anything from an unsolicited e-mail

• You fight back by not opening unknown attachments.

• We fight back by not running employment classifieds from known spammers.

Let’s make this week one where the humans get control again of cyberspace. One message Thursday came from a reader who said he was 80 years old and dependent on the computer for news and entertainment. We have to protect his interest.
 

Orchids on display

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 33rd Exposición Nacional de Orquídeas opened Thursday at the Antigua Aduana and runs through Sunday.

More than 1,300 orchids are on display for what is a competitive show for growers.

The event  is put on each year by the Asociación Costarricense de Orquideología.
 

Canadian fugitive caught

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian woman who is the principal suspect in the 1995 murder of a boyfriend fell into police hands Thursday.

She is Julia Yvonne Elliot, 34, who was found at Paso Canoas. The murder took place in the Ottawa area. The male victim was stabbed, dismembered and thrown in a river.

Residents plan picnic

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica will hold its annual charity picnic March 27 in Montelandia above Heredia.

The event will run from 10 .m. to 4 p.m., and children under 12 are admitted free. This is one of the major social events the organization runs each year. 

Admission is 1,000 colons in advance and 1,500 at the gate, the group said.

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U.S. Embassy warns of repercussions over Harken
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy in San José issued an unusual statement Thursday in which it said it  laments the decision by the Costa Rican government to withdraw from negotiations with the Harken Energy petroleum firm.

If Costa Rica maintains this attitude, there will be adverse repercussions for the investors involved and the climate of negotiations for U.S. investment in Costa Rica, the statement said.

The embassy statement urged the government to seek options for a quick and friendly solution.

Costa Rica announced Wednesday that it will not pay compensation to the Houston, Texas,-based multinational. The  firm had a concession to drill for oil offshore in the Caribbean, but the concession was canceled in the last days of the Miguel Angel Rodríguez government.

The issue was politically charged, and the decision was ratified by the administration of Abel Pacheco, who came out strongly against offshore drilling and open pit gold mines.

Harken got the attention of Costa Rican officials last September when it filed for $57 billion before 

the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a subsidiary of the World Bank. Harken withdrew its claim when Costa Rica said it would negotiate, but officials, including Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister of Ambiente y Energía, were talking about a payment somewhere between $3 and $11 million.

The $57 billion is about 15 times the country’s external debt or about $14,000 for every man woman and child in Costa Rica.

The Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental had rejected the environmental impact study submitted by Harken, but there is some question if the environmental study was required by contract.

Harken began studies in 1997 with the hopes of some day tapping and estimated 300,000-barrel a day petroleum resource offshore. Costa Rica does not now have a working oil well.

Rodríguez, the environment minister, Wednesday repeated the government’s claim that Harken had not completed its contract.  Oil Watch, an environmental group, said Thursday that the government should not pay Harken anything and it should let the company go to the Costa Rican courts. It characterized Harken’s position as extortion.


 
Stock promoter faces big civil judgment in U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man arrested in Costa Rica was hit with a $1.8 million civil judgment and a penalty of $120,000 in Federal District Court in Nevada.

The man, Larry A Stockett, 57, also faces a federal indictment for stock fraud. He was arrested here Feb. 8 at his home in the Los Arcos subdivision west of San José on the strength of that criminal indictment.
He is believed to be awaiting extradition proceedings.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. stock police, announced the judgment against Stockett this week. The judgment also forbids Stockett from violating security laws in the future.

He has been described as a repeat offender. Typically the commission files civil charges in advance of any criminal actions.

The commission's civil complaint alleged that between August 1999 and April 2002, Stockett orchestrated a fraudulent scheme regarding Hightec, Inc. and an affiliated company, The S.I.N.C.L.A.R.E. Group, Inc., two publicly held entities of which he was the sole officer and director. The complaint alleged that Stockett issued numerous false press releases and other public 

statements concerning, among other things, Stockett's disciplinary history and the legal status and current business operations of Hightec and Sinclare. 

According to the complaint, Stockett, among other things, falsely represented that Hightec, through a subsidiary, U.S. Cement, had significant access to capital as well as established business operations in the cement industry that utilized certain advanced technologies. 

The complaint alleged that in fact, U.S. Cement had no significant operations and did not have access to the technology as claimed. The complaint further alleged that Stockett falsely represented that Sinclare owned a "railroad entertainment complex" valued at $6.9 million, and that Stockett disseminated revenue projections for Hightec and its subsidiaries that were fraudulent, in that they had no reasonable basis in fact. 

The complaint further alleged that. while disseminating these false and misleading statements, Stockett sold restricted Hightec stock in unregistered transactions, realizing profits of approximately $583,687. The complaint further alleged that, between 1996 and 2002, Stockett also failed to file mandatory periodic and current reports with the commission on behalf of Hightec and Sinclare.


 
Body of another female murder victim found near Ciudad Juarez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUAREZ, México — Authorities say the body of a woman has been found on the outskirts of town here, near the U.S. border, close to the location where the bodies of three other women were found last year. 

Officials say the partially clothed body of the latest victim was discovered Wednesday by a passer-by.  The condition of the body and the location have led some to believe the woman could be the victim of the same killer or killers as the women found last year. 

Officials say at least 258 women have been killed in the area over the past 10 years.  Mexican and international human rights groups have protested the lack of progress in the investigations surrounding the killings. 

Ciudad Juarez, is located just across the U.S.-Mexican border from El Paso, Texas. U.S. lawmakers have also urged Mexican authorities to devote more resources to the investigation. 

Investigators believe at least some of the women have been the victims of drug dealers operating in the area. 

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Pro-Aristide supporters march on national palace
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Police here broke up a violent demonstration of supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Thursday. Several people were admitted to local hospitals with gunshots wounds but there have been no reports of fatalities. Multi-national troops and Haitian police have started disarmament operations in an effort to try to control violence in Haiti.

A crowd of Aristide supporters marched out of the Bel Aire slum in downtown Port-au-Prince and headed for the national palace early Thursday afternoon where they had planned to hold a demonstration. Shortly afterwards shots rang out and police lobbed tear gas canisters into the crowd. The crowd dispersed back into the Bel Aire neighborhood, but not before smashing car windows and burning tires in the heart of the city.

Nearly two weeks after President Aristide fled Haiti many of his supporters remain furious. Like Guillome Max Henry, an unemployed resident of Bel Aire, they say they will continue demonstrating until Aristide is returned.

"Since Aristide was elected, he has two more years in office," he said. "And until Aristide is put back into power we will protest every day."

Political life in Haiti is moving on. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue held talks Thursday with interim President Boniface Alexandre. The two men have the task of leading Haiti to new elections at some point in the future. Latortue says his main tasks are reconciliation, security and disarmament.

He is expected to announce a cabinet within days giving prominent roles to former Army Chief of Staff Herard Abraham and former Aristide Prime Minister Smark Michel.

Latortue says he wants multi-national troops in Haiti to take the initiative when it comes to disarmament. U.S. Marines, French troops and Haitian police have begun raids in Port-au-Prince seeking weapons hidden in private homes. U.S. Marine Col. Mark Garganus who commands U.S. troops in Haiti says good intelligence is the key to finding guns.

"We work off of information that we are provided from numerous sources," he said. "Rarely will we work off of single source information."

Garganus says Haiti's main port in the capital is now secure enough so that multi-national troops have begun to receive supplies by sea. The troops have stepped up their patrols in recent days in areas near the port and airport which have been hard hit by looting.


 
Ousted president plans a vacation in Caribbean
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

 KINGSTON, Jamaica — Officials say ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is set to arrive in Jamaica next week for a temporary stay, but that he is not seeking political asylum in their country.

Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said Thursday that Aristide expressed a wish to return temporarily to the Caribbean with his wife, and to be reunited with their two young children who are currently in the United States.

Patterson said the former Haitian leader is not seeking asylum in Jamaica, and that his stay there is not expected to last more than eight to 10 weeks.

Aristide arrived in the Central African Republic early last week after resigning his post and fleeing Haiti. 

Patterson also said the new interim Haitian Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, has already contacted 

him. He said Latortue has proposed a visit to Jamaica for talks prior to a meeting of Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, heads of government is Saint Kitts later this month.

The Jamaican leader, who also chairs CARICOM, said the group remains committed to the goal of restoring and nurturing democracy in Haiti, and to helping in the social and economic development of its people.

His comments came one day after U.S. military officials announced they will direct peacekeepers in Haiti to confiscate illegal weapons in a bid to halt Haitian-on-Haitian violence.

Meanwhile, Latortue and interim President Boniface Alexandre are also set to begin work on forming a new government that will pave the way for fresh elections in the country.  The new prime minister, who had been living in Miami, Florida, was selected for the post Tuesday by a U.S.-backed council. In 1988, he served as Haiti's foreign minister.


 
U.N. critical of state of human rights in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The United Nations has criticized Colombia's crackdown on leftist rebels, denouncing the government's arbitrary roundups and anti-terrorism laws that give sweeping powers to the military. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual report on Colombia Wednesday, in which it characterized the human rights situation in the country as "critical." 

The document expressed particular concern over an increase in reports of torture and mistreatment by government forces, mass arrests of suspected rebels, and allegations that officials were collaborating with right-wing paramilitary groups. But Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos blasted the U.N. findings. He said the United Nations does not understand that Colombia's democratic government faces enormous threats from armed groups financed by drug money. 

In a separate development, a Colombian court Wednesday sentenced top paramilitary leader 

Carlos Castano in absentia to 38 years in prison for ordering the 1999 assassination of popular journalist and humorist Jaime Garzon.  Castano, who has denied ordering the killing, is currently in hiding to avoid arrest on numerous charges, including kidnapping, murder, and drug trafficking.

In another development, Colombian authorities have seized properties worth an estimated $100 million believed to belong to members of the Cali-based Norte del Valle drug cartel. 

Members of the police "Search Bloc" carried out the operation under a 1996 law that allows the state to take over property acquired with funds obtained from illegal activities such as drug trafficking. 

The recently re-established elite police unit had gained fame for helping to dismantle major Colombian drug cartels in the early 1990's. The anti-drug team was also responsible for killing notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar during a shootout in 1993.

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