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These stories were published Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Absenteeism might be third of possible voters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the April 7 runoff election approaches, politicians are becoming more and more concerned by the possibility that about a third of the country’s eligible voters will not go to the polls.

Two recent polls show that upwards of 35 percent of those who could vote will not.

The two candidates were found to be pretty much in the same position as they were in the Feb. 3 vote: Abel Pacheco of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana has a healthy 10 percent edge on his opponent, Rolando Araya Monge of the Partido Liberación Nacional. The polls sponsored by an organization and another by the newspaper Al Dia found that about 38 percent of the people said they would vote for Pacheco. 

To win, a candidate needs 40 percent of the votes cast, so a large absenteeism will not keep a president from being elected. But stay-at-homes would affect his ability to govern and the legitimacy of his victory, some politicians believe.

The key to the voting is Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana. He failed to make the cut for the runoff, but it was votes for him that kept any candidate from getting a constitutionally required 40 percent.

His supporters, generally middle income and well educated, are the unknown quantity. Solís has not yet endorsed any presidential candidate. He ran on an anti-corruption platform, and his supporters appeared to be disgusted with the two traditional parties.

Meanwhile, both candidates are stressing transparency in their campaigns, and Araya said he would create a minister-level position for someone to police the executive branch for corruption. Transparency means doing everything in the public eye, including contracts, bids and hiring.

Araya has begun to attack Pacheco indirectly, suggesting that if Pacheco were elected he would be in a position to name members of his party to the board of directors of the independent agencies, such as the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the electric company and the insurance monopoly. 

Some segments of the population took to the streets a year ago when President Miguel Angel Rodríguez tried to reform the independent agencies. Araya is suggesting that with a board of directors full of members of Pacheco’s party, the independent agencies would be dismantled. Rodríguez and  Pacheco are members of the same party, although Pacheco tried to distance himself from the president in the campaign.

Fugitive bookie with Mafia ties caught here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican police picked up a New York man with Mafia connections Tuesday in Sabana Norte where he was involved in an online betting operation.

The man is Dominick Curra, 57, who pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to conspiring to sell counterfeit works of art. He left New York for Costa Rica around Christmas and didn’t show up for his March 1 sentencing date.

He is expected to get about three years in prison.

Curra is known in FBI circles as a close associate of former Mafia boss John Gotti. He was depicted on some of the Gotti videotapes taking walks with the New York gangster.
Gotti was the head of the Gambino crime family in New York until he was convicted in federal court of five murders.

It was these tapes that prompted his guilty plea when a federal judge agreed to let the videotapes be shown at his trial. the much-photographed Gotti used to take strolls outside the Ravenite Social Club that was his headquarters in the Little Italy section of New York. 

Being pictured walking with Gotti pretty much destroyed Curra’s anticipated defense 

that he was only bragging when he told an informer about his mob connections.

The case against Curra and two other persons involved an effort to sell faked paintings by modern masters like Picasso and Chagall for $35 million. The would-be buyer was a federal informant, according to information released in court papers.

Dominick Curra
The U.S. government has been seeking Curra’s extradition because it was no secret he took off for Costa Rica. He is an Italian citizen even though he has lived for years in New York, and that complicated the legal efforts.

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Bush will meet with Rodríguez about free trade
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush will meet with Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguez as well as other Latin American leaders during the U.S. president’s trip south late next week. 

That was revealed Tuesday by Otto Reich, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

In San Salvador, Bush also will meet with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as Rodríguez to discuss a proposed U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement.

Reich said that President Bush's trip next week to three countries in Latin America shows his administration's commitment to the region.

In a Tuesday speech on U.S. policy toward the Americas, Reich, who was formally sworn into his position the day before, said the trip to Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador offers a "great opportunity" for Bush to highlight the administration's "multi-layered approach to addressing the region's challenges and opportunities."

Reich said that in Monterrey, Mexico, the president will participate in a United Nations conference on development where he will "emphasize the imperative of market-oriented and creative strategies to promote and sustain economic development and prosperity."

In Peru and El Salvador, Reich said, the president will be concentrating on trade and development, democracy, and security. Reich said that in Peru's capital of Lima, the president will have a chance to highlight Peru's "democratic success story and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to political and economic freedom in the region."

Reich said in his remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies that although bilateral issues are the main theme of the trip to Peru, Bush will also have an invaluable opportunity to meet collectively with the presidents of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador.

"Trade will certainly be on everyone's mind" in Lima, said Reich. "But so will security, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and the growing challenges Colombia and her neighbors face." The trip is March 22 to 24.

In San Salvador, Reich said, Bush will draw attention to El Salvador's success in fully implementing peace accords signed 10 years ago. 

Reich said the Bush trip to the region "provides just the kind of opportunity we need right now" for the president and Secretary of State Colin Powell "to highlight the broad vision that infuses our policy and philosophy toward Latin America."

U.S. policy toward the region, Reich said, is based on the "pillars of democracy, development, governmental integrity, and security," adding: "Freedom underscores and bolsters these pillars, all of which are interrelated and mutually reinforcing."

In March 11 remarks at his swearing-in ceremony at the State Department, Reich said corruption is the "single largest obstacle to development in the developing world." Furthermore, "those who steal from the public purse are doing as much harm to their country as a foreign invader would," he observed. "Whether it is the policeman who takes a $2 bribe to tear up a traffic ticket or the cabinet official who takes $2 million to rig a government contract, they are doing untold damage to their countries."

The United States cannot solve all the problems of the hemisphere, Reich said. "But we can help those who help themselves." 

Last bank robbery suspect  being sought by police 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators still are seeking one more suspect as a member of a high-profile band of bank robbers who plied their trade in the metropolitan area last year.

Police arrested a third suspect finally after a car chase punctuated by bullets through Hatillo, La Sabana to Pavas Monday. They arrested Jorge Quesada Delgado, 24, after they blew out tires with bullets and eventually rammed his vehicle.

Quesada had his 5-year-old son with him when the chase began, investigators said. Police spotted his car in Hatillo in the southern part of the city. The 3:30 p.m. chase lasted about 15 minutes as Quesada would not stop. The child was uninjured, investigators said.

Quesada joins his father in jail. The father, Guiermo Quesada Carballo, 42, went to jail Nov 8, just a week after a band of men held up the Mutual of Alejuela office in Curridabat.

Police arrested another suspect about 4 p.m. Friday

as he walked along a street in Ciudadela López Mateos in the southern part of San José. He is Jhonny Montero, 36, agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said. He was carrying a heavy-caliber handgun, they added.

A spokesman for investigators gave no details of who still was sought. But they said that the fourth person was the last suspect.

Holdup suspect arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police arrested a man Monday afternoon in Dos Cercas de Desamparados as the suspected robber of a couple in Cartago March 5.  A man on a motorcycle pulled up to the pair as they returned home from getting money from a bank, according to police.

The robber took $5.5 million colons ($15,850), police said. they identified the suspect as Angel Badilla Arrieta, 21.

‘Wetlands Day’ fete
at National Museum

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thursday is "World Wetlands Day" at the Museo Nacional, and the word loses something in the translation from the Spanish "Día Mundial de los Humedales."

But no one is going to slog around in swamps. The emphasis will be on ecology and the important role that such wetlands play in the cycle of life, particularly in Costa Rica where there are more than 350 such wetlands that cover more than 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) or about 7 percent of the country.

Wetlands provide breeding grounds for aquatic life and birds as well as purify the water, stabilize the climate and prevent flooding.

The museum has a special exhibit this year showing the value of such wetlands, "Vuelo entre Luz y Sombra: Humedales y Contaminación en el Golfo de Nicoya." (Flight Between Light and Shadows: Wetlands and Pollution in the Nicoya Gulf.)

Members of student ecology clubs will participate in a drawing contest, in educational seminars. The events also will take place a day earlier on Wednesday and a day later on Friday. Some 23 students from schools all over the metropolitan area will receive certificates for the work on this topic. 

Powell asks Congress
for Colombian changes

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C.. — U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has told Congress the Bush Administration wants legislative changes to give it more flexibility in helping Colombia fight leftist rebels. 

More than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Colombia is currently limited to counter-narcotics efforts. 

But Secretary Powell told a Senate budget subcommittee Tuesday that the United States should help Colombia fight, what he called, terrorists and the narco-traffickers. Powell said he does not envision U.S. combat troops being sent to Colombia to fight the rebels. 

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Otto Reich, said the United States has a solemn obligation to help Colombia defend its democracy against what he termed "extremely violent terrorist organizations." 

In recent weeks, several Bush Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have been saying Washington should ease its restrictions on U.S. military aid to Colombia. 

Some lawmakers have warned that aiding Colombia's fight against rebels would lead to involvement in that country's 38-year civil war. The United States has branded Colombia's rebel groups and a right-wing paramilitary force as terrorist organizations. 

Argentina racks up
record unemployment

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentine - This country posted a record monthly unemployment rise in February, with 75,000 people losing their jobs. February's jobless rate rose to more than 22 percent. 

The unemployment figure is largely the result of Argentina's economic crisis, which led it to default on its $141 billion debt at the end of last year. Since the crisis began, Argentina has taken measures to revive its economy, including the devaluation of its currency, which has fallen 54 percent against the dollar. 

Bogus Internet deal
used patriotic pitch

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission  said that a federal court has closed down three Web sites in response to a complaint that the site operators were using deceptive tactics in trying to market useless domain names.

The five U.S. and British companies named by the FTC are accused of using misleading e-mail marketing techniques to sell domain names such as ".usa" and ".brit." The FTC also noted how the companies exploited the post-September mood to sell their bogus sites with appeals to patriotism.

The FTC press release quotes the deceptive e-mail spams:

"The latest domain name extension has arrived .USA!!! It's the fresh, new, exciting web address that is taking the world by storm. Who wants to be .com when you can now be .USA. Register your .USA domain name today exclusively at: http://www.dotusa.com."

The FTC alleges the companies are not accredited domain-name registrars, and that the domain names are not — and likely would never be — useable.

"They sent deceptive spam, and they sold worthless Web addresses from their Web sites," said J. Howard Beales, III, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "By closing down this operation we're sending a strong signal: We will not tolerate deceptive spam."

The companies named in the FTC complaint are TLD Network Ltd., Quantum Management (GB) Ltd., TBS Industries LTD., Thomas Goolnik, and Edward Harris Goolnik of Finchley Road, London.

Brazil’s president rips
accounting methods

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

FORTALEZA, Brazil — Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has sharply criticized the International Monetary Fund's accounting methods, saying they are different for industrialized and developing countries. 

President Cardoso spoke at the start of a three-day Inter-American Development Bank summit here.

Cardoso proposed changing the accounting rules to help developing nations fend off financial crises more easily. He also said the IMF should make changes that would help it react faster and more effectively to poor countries in economic crisis. 

There was no immediate comment from IMF officials. 

Cardoso has also voiced his disapproval of proposed U.S. steel tariffs, as U.S. and Brazilian trade representatives meet in the nation's capital, Brasilia. 

Cardoso said the new U.S. policy, which taxes imported steel up to 30 percent, amounts to protectionism. He said nations that demand their neighbors open their markets cannot pursue policies to close their own. 

Meanwhile, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank has said he does not expect economic growth in Latin America before 2003. 

Speaking at the opening ceremony here, Enrique Iglesias said the region would post a zero growth rate this year but could start a modest recovery by 2003.  He warned that public morale is low, with two out of three Latin Americans saying they are pessimistic about the economy and questioning the effectiveness of reforms. 

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