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These stories were published Thursday, March 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 51
Jo Stuart
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Murder of boy in rural area is a shocker
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 8-year-old was supposed to walk home from school, some two kilometers, a little more than a mile. But something terrible happened.

The lad, Jervin or Greirven Oporta Martínez, never made it home. He left the elementary school of Cooper de Muelle de San Carlos just about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

His mother awaited in the settlement of Hebrón, but the boy never showed up. By 11 p.m. police were involved in the case, an unusual one for the rural area north of San Carlos/Ciudad Quesada. The area is a flat agricultural one.

At 7:30 a.m. a policeman from the San Carlos delegación reported he had located the boy’s body some three kilometers from his home, about two miles, on the bank of the Río Cooper. But this was not a school child who drowned accidentally.

Police quickly noticed two knife wounds on the body. Later investigators said the wounds were on the back, neck and head.

By midafternoon a spokesman for the Judicial investigating Organization said that three adult suspects had been detained in the area. The three are believed to be agricultural workers. The speculation was that the wounds to the boy were caused by a machete, the traditional implement carried by nearly every agricultural worker in Costa Rica.

Police said the family recently moved to the area from Alajuela.

The boy’s death shocked many, in part because of the usually quiet rural area where it took place. The death also follows on the heels of the Jan. 29 murder of Ema Elizabeth Góngora Jaime, 8, who died nearby while her parents were picking coffee beans.  That was in the La Unión canton of Cartago. A suspect in that crime has been identified but the evidence is far from conclusive.

Alterra nearly finished with second stage of airport work
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alterra Partners Costa Rica has announced it expects to inaugurate phase two of its "master plan" to upgrade Juan Santamaría Airport, the country’s gateway to the world, sometime at the beginning of April.

A spokesperson for the company said work is almost completed, which will add to the already completed phase one of the plan. Phase one included a new terminal building and parking structure.

The stage two part of the work involved the construction of two new waiting lounges, as well as the remodeling of the existing six boarding gates and their reconfiguration into seven gates, said the spokesperson.

Alterra Partners is responsible for the administration of the airport, a concession made by the government almost three years ago. 

The group is expected to invest $240 million during the 20-year duration of the contract, said the group. About $160 million of this was to be invested during the first three years of the contract, which are almost up.

The spokesperson said Alterra Partners has proved it is functioning with the completion of this work. She said the company has delivered its part of the bargain.

The spokesperson said much of the investment for the project came from loans from private 

banks and from Alterra Partners’ share of profits generated by the airport. 

The government coffers receive around 50 percent of profits from the airport, said the spokesperson.

The airport is a public-private partnership between the government and Alterra Partners. Alterra Partners is effectively the airport’s manager, while the government retains ownership of the airport.

The Alterra spokesperson said the partnership between the government and Alterra Partners is the first public/private partnership that is truly working in Costa Rica. She said in the past others, such as motorway construction projects, have not been a success.

"We have accomplished what we said we would . . . the things we have promised and the time it was supposed to be finished," said the spokesperson.

The partnership has, at times, been dogged by negative rhetoric since its inception. There have been constant calls from certain sectors of government claiming the partnership is not working. The spokesperson dismissed these problems. "It’s all politics," she said.

Alterra Partners Costa Rica is part of the London, UK-based, Alterra Partners Ltd. The group is also involved in London Luton Airport in the UK, and Jorge Chavez International Airport in Peru.

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Nation faces possible bus strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans will get a taste of the Iraq war this morning when a high percentage of bus operations say they will go on strike.

The issue is increasing costs due to higher fuel prices. The prices are going up because suppliers anticipate a reduction in petroleum when war starts, perhaps next Tuesday.

The man everyone hates at the moment is Herman Hess, the regulador de los servicios públicos. He is in charge of setting prices for any number of public services.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte last month asked for a general increase of about 11 percent in the fares of buses and taxis. Since then, a number of taxi drivers have taken matters into their own hands and quietly jacked up their rates.
The more visible buses have to stick to their posted fares.

Not all firms will participate in what probably will be a nationwide bus stoppage. However, enough probably will do so to mess up travel plans of workers and tourists.

Government officials were meeting with representatives of the bus companies until late Wednesday. But the key player, Hess, said he will not be pressured. The sticking point is that he has 

not made any announcements about possible increases. In any event, he has said he will treat each bus line individually and not accept an overall increase.

The majority of blue collar workers and students use buses in the Central Valley. Long-distance buses are vital in linking cities and regions of the country. Most long-distance buses have their hub in San José.

The Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, the agency headed by Hess, still has not exceeded the legal period for making a decision on fare increases, but the bus operators are anxious because fuel keeps going up.

Still unknown is how the major taxi services will respond to the stoppage. They could make an effort to pick up the people normally transported by buses. But taxi operators share similar concerns with the bus operators, so a taxi slowdown would paralyze the nation.

This is not the first time that the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte has clashed with Hess. Last year Hess did not permit the ministry and Javier Chávez, the minister, to raise toll on Central Valley highways as much as had been requested. The ministry responded by creating "voluntary" payment lanes where motorist could pay the toll with a 100-colon coin, some 25 colons more than was authorized.

El Salvador joins list of Latin countries protesting privatization
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN SALVADOR — Thousands of Salvadorans are gearing up for a march today against the government's privatization policies. The protest comes as a group of doctors and other hospital workers here continue their six-month strike. 

The protests and strike are examples of a region-wide backlash against the sale to private companies of state-operated services. In Costa Rica, protesters during the last presidential admininstration took to the streets when it appeared that several government monopolies would be dismantled.

In the shade of a yellow tent, on a blocked off, downtown street, a cardiologist takes Juan Alberto Cabreras's blood pressure. The 82-year-old is one of the more than 300 patients that striking doctors have been attending for free each day outside a strike-torn social security hospital. Cabrera said he supports the strike because he thinks that when it comes to the dangers of privatization, he says these doctors' diagnosis is accurate. 

He said they privatized electricity, and it made it more expensive. He said the government has given the population an example of what privatization is like, and that example has been destructive. 

Protesters plan to march in the streets, demanding that the government stop what they say are plans to privatize the social security medical system. 

The World Bank and other international lenders pushed privatizations in the 1990s. Across the region, governments eager to improve desperate economies and receive much-needed loans adopted the policies. 

Critics say privatizations in Latin America have further concentrated wealth and driven up the costs of services without making them more efficient. 

Violent protests in Bolivia in April 2000 and in Peru last June were able to suspend, at least 

temporarily, plans to privatize certain state-run utilities in those countries. 

But Mauricio Ramos, the director of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute, said the strike and protests are merely a political ploy aimed at scaring voters away from the ruling party in Sunday's legislative and mayoral elections. "We have been very clear, there [are] no plans to privatize," said Ramos. 

But doctors say that their fears are warranted. Laundry, food service and security have already been contracted to private companies. 

In late February, the doctors association revealed that medical services were also being privatized, and in a highly questionable manner. 

A company owned by the nation's minister of health, Francisco Lopez Beltran, was one of three companies contracted late last year to perform social security patient eye surgeries. 

Days after the news broke, Dr. Roberto German Tobar, a leader of the doctors association, was one of dozens of doctors protesting outside the health minister’s office, demanding his resignation. 

He said the law is clear: no minister can compete for a government contract. He said the benefits of this contract are for the health minister and his company, for him to profit off of health services. 

The doctors association has filed a criminal complaint over the contract. 

Since the strike began in September, some 260 of the 600 striking doctors have gone back to work, and social security has made 350 new hires. Ramos said that the social security hospitals are now working at close to their full capacity. 

Meanwhile they say the situation is far from normal inside the hospitals. Strikers say medical residents are doing the work of full-fledged doctors, that general practitioners are doing the work of specialists and that, as a result, deaths are on the rise. 

Drug lord arrested just
months after being freed

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Authorities have arrested one of the country's most notorious drug lords, four months after he was freed from prison by a controversial court ruling. 

Officials say Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela was taken into custody in his hometown of Cali Wednesday to face new drug trafficking charges. Rodriguez and his brother, Miguel, were both leaders of the former Cali cocaine cartel. They were captured in 1995 and later sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for trafficking cocaine to the United States. 

Last November, a judge ordered both brothers freed early for good behavior. The government of President Alvaro Uribe managed to keep Rodriguez behind bars by winning an appellate court ruling that convicted him of bribery. 

Uribe said that freeing the drug lords could harm the country's dignity and hurt its relations with the United States. Uribe has insisted that fighting the drug trade is critical to ending the country's 39-year civil war. 

In recent years, the United States has provided Colombia with an estimated $2 billion in aid, mainly for counter narcotics efforts. Washington has now expanded that assistance to counterinsurgency operations.

Chile calls for diplomatic
solution to Iraq debate

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — President Ricardo Lagos says he is losing hope there will be a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis. 

Chile is a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council and one of several countries that has not yet announced how it will vote on any new resolution for Iraq to disarm. 

Lagos said there is very little time left to find a peaceful solution in Iraq. He said efforts Chile has made to resolve the crisis diplomatically have not succeeded. 

Chile has pushed to extend by 45 days a deadline proposed by the United States for Iraq to disarm. The United States and Britain have rejected the proposed extension as too long. 

Lagos said that while time is running out for peace in Iraq, the country will continue to work until the end to find a solution to the crisis.

1 dead, 4 injured
in Colombian bombing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Authorities say one person is dead and at least four others have been injured following a truck bomb explosion in the northeast of the country.

Investigators say the blast happened Tuesday in the city of Arauca, near a refreshment stand on a rural road. It is not clear who planted the 300-kilogram device.

The region is one of the country's most violent, as rebels and rightist paramilitaries involved in the country's 39-year civil war battle for control of the region's oil resources.

U.S. Special Forces soldiers have been deployed to Arauca to train Colombian government soldiers in protecting the key Cano Limon pipeline from rebel attack. The pipeline was bombed more than 170 times in 2001. 

In a related development, leftist rebels are suspected of attacking three city buses here with gas bombs. Authorities say one of the vehicles was incinerated in Tuesday's attack but that no one was hurt. Two suspects were arrested.

Brazilian leader unveils 
plan to stop slavery

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has announced a plan to end modern-day slavery in South America's largest country.

The president's proposal calls for officials to confiscate farms where slavery occurs and turn the land over to the former slaves to work and own. The plan, announced Tuesday, also includes social programs for the former slaves.

Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, but the practice persists in remote parts of the country's north. According to official estimates, as many as 25,000 people live in slave-like conditions here.

Iran recalled diplomat
over Jewish center blast

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina — Iran has recalled a top diplomat from the country in a growing dispute over the investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center here. 

Iran's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Mohammed Ali Tabatabaie has returned home for consultations. 

Relations between the two countries have been strained since Friday, after a judge issued arrest warrants for Iran's former intelligence minister and three diplomats in connection with the bombing. 

The 1994 blast killed 85 people and wounded more than 200. Iran has long denied any link to the attack. It protested the arrest warrants and vowed to take what it called "appropriate action" if the country does not cancel them.

Iran's recall of Tabatabaie came one day after Argentine authorities summoned him to discuss Tehran's reaction to the arrest warrants. Carlos Ruckauf, the foreign minister, has said the warrants are a judicial matter, not a diplomatic one.

The truck bombing of the Jewish Center took place two years after another bombing destroyed the Israeli Embassy here, killing nearly 30 people. Like the community center case, the embassy bombing remains unsolved.

The judge ordered the arrest of Iran's former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, a former Iranian cultural attaché, a former embassy courier and another official.

IMF says Latin America 
entering precarious time

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The head of the International Monetary Fund said Latin America faces difficult economic circumstances, but that the potential for recovery exists and will have to be nurtured.

Horst Koehler, the fund’s managing director, said Latin American countries need to implement sound economic and fiscal policies to better protect themselves from financial crises.

Koehler says there is a need for these countries to generate more domestic savings and reduce debt. The fund chief said that last year the gross domestic product in the region fell by half of one percent, led by the recession in Argentina.

Koehler, however, said the economic situation was better in Chile and Mexico. He noted too, that better policies in countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru have helped those nations weather economic turmoil reasonably well.

He said he is particularly encouraged by the new government in Brazil, headed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Koehler says the da Silva administration is charting a "courageous course" to restore growth and reduce poverty.

Human rights group asks
for US-EU support

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The human rights group Human Rights Watch is calling on the United States and the European Union to restore the credibility of the United Nations' Human Rights Commission. 

Kenneth Roth, the group’s director, said the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is in crisis. He says the U.N.'s major rights forum is ineffective in combating abuses because many of the countries that belong to the commission are among the biggest violators of human rights and are trying to use the forum as a shield against scrutiny. 

Roth urged the United States and the European Union to take an active role in countering this trend by working to ensure that the commission does its task, which is to name and shame those countries that abuse human rights. 

He said his group wants resolutions passed censuring China, Colombia, Iran, North Korea, and Turkmenistan for abuses that have taken place in those countries. He also said Russia's actions in Chechnya should be censured. 

In addition, Roth discussed the human rights issues that could arise in the event of a war against Iraq. "We are concerned that . . .  Saddam Hussein, if he sees the end is near, will wind up killing as many Iraqis as he can as a way of retaliating or embarrassing the United States.”

Costa Rica and Canada
Gold Cup opponents

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican national soccer team will face Canada for its first match in the annual CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, being hosted this year by the United States and Mexico from July 12 to 27.

The team will play against Canada at a stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home to U.S. Major League Soccer team New England Revolution.

Costa Rica will also face another team — from the Caribbean — though that team has not yet been determined because the Caribbean Association Football’s qualifying tournament has not yet been completed. 

Twelve teams participate in the tournament. Included are two guest teams from the South America football confederation, CONMEBOL: reigning world champion Brazil and Colombia.

Costa Rica’s new head coach, Steve Sampson, will head into the tournament with the knowledge of last year’s tournament fresh in his mind. The Costa Rican team met the United States in the final, losing 2-0. Although he wasn’t coach then, the Costa Rican fans will be unforgiving, since Sampson is himself an American and a former head coach of the U.S. national team.

Queen’s birthday
to benefit schools

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Schools struggling with finance problems will be the major beneficiaries of a garden party organized by the British community in Costa Rica, according to event organizers.

John Bryant, one of the organizers, said the community will hold a garden party in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday at the British ambassador’s home May 10. He said all proceeds will go to schools here that are in need of funding.

The party will start at 9 a.m. and last through 2 p.m. There will be a full program of entertainment, though details have not yet been announced. Food and refreshments will also be available.

Bryant said although the party will not be for some time — just under two months — he wants people to be made aware of it as early as possible.

The British community had a party last year, also in the ambassador’s residence, to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. The event raised $10,000, which was split evenly between the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

For further information contact the British Embassy at 258-2025.

ICE panel picked
to study new law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional has approved the creation of a committee to analyze a proposed law to strengthen and modernize the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The company runs the light company, Internet access and also produces the bulk of the hydro power used  in Costa Rica. 

The 11-lawmaker committee also will have nine outside advisers and 90 days to study the proposed law. The ICE is a free-standing public institute that has a strong lobby through its employee unions.

Proposed law gives
women a guarantee

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Liberación Nacional deputy wants a guaranteed 40 percent of women on the board of directors of every association, union, federation and other such organizations. She is Maria Elena Nuñez, and she put her view into a proposed law.

The deputy said that the measure would help eliminate discrimination against women.
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Top general says drugs-terrorist link is a fact here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — Narco-terrorism is a "pervasive force of destruction" that is affecting every country in the Americas, says James T. Hill, commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

In a speech in Miami, Hill, an Army general, said that narco-terrorism — that is, terrorist activity funded by the illicit drug trade and other organized crime — is fueling radical Islamic groups associated with Hamas, Hizballah, and Al Gamatt that are operating in such places as the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, and on Venezuela's Margarita Island. Such groups, he said, generate hundreds of millions of dollars through drug and arms trafficking to finance terrorist groups around the world.

"Simply put, direct drug sales and money laundering fund worldwide terrorist operations," Hill said. "That is fact, not speculation."

The Southcom commander said the threat to countries in the region does not come from the military force of an adjacent neighbor or from a foreign invading power. Rather, "today's foe is the terrorist, the narco-trafficker, the arms trafficker, the document forger, the international crime boss, and the money launderer," Hill said. The new threat, he added, "respects neither geographical nor moral boundaries."

The hemispheric community must act in concert to prevent the "continuing and increasingly corrosive spread of narco-terrorism and its connections to international and transnational terrorists, arms, drugs, and other insidious threats" throughout the region, Hill said.

The goal for regional leaders, he said, is a hemisphere where children do not have to live in fear of being orphaned by terrorists, kidnapped, or pressed into service by gangs, drug traffickers and narco-terrorists.

"Our children deserve to be safe — and if we act together, we can give them safety and security," said Hill.

"Nowhere is the threat more graphically and brutally active than Colombia," he said.  "Last month in Bogotá, a 200-kilogram car bomb planted by the FARC exploded in a parking garage under

the 11-story El Nogal social club, killing 35 people, 
including six children at a piñata party, and injuring 173 more. 

"I never refer to these terrorists as guerillas, insurgents, or rebels. Neither does the secretary of state — because, in his words, those labels romanticize them. There is nothing romantic about these narco-terrorists who wreak havoc on Colombia and its people."

FARC is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s oldest, best equipped Marxist group. The U.S. secretary of state is Colin Powell.
"These are the same narco-terrorists who employ home-made propane tank mortars — with a range of 400 yards and notorious inaccuracy," said the general.

"They do what they are meant to do — kill indiscriminately. These narco-terrorists conduct violent, incessant attacks to undermine the security and stability of Colombia. 

"They are incredibly well-

Gen. James T. Hill
financed by their involvement in every aspect of drug cultivation and production, kidnapping and extortion. They have long since lost any ideological motivation they once may have had. 

"Today, they are motivated by money and power, protecting and sustaining themselves through drug trafficking and terror. They offer nothing of value to the state or people, no better form of government, no liberation from an oppressive dictatorship. They offer death and lawlessness."

The U. S. Southern Command is one of nine unified military commands located throughout the world.  Personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard are assigned to the command, which is headquartered in Miami. 

A principal goal of the Southern Command is to stop drug shipments from Colombia to the United States.

Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects. 

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 

Deadline is April 15

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.
Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to 

editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify "photo contest." Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name as the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

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