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These stories were published Wednesday, March 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 54
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If you need a drinking excuse, today's the day
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

If St. Patrick knew that his feast day had become the a celebration of the amateur drunk, he would not be pleased. 

In Costa Rica, his day goes largely unnoticed because here every day is a celebration of the amateur drunk. Maybe that’s what there are no parades or even a well defined place to tip back an Irish whiskey.

Now St. Patrick gained a reputation for driving the snakes out of Ireland, something that separation by the sea and the Ice Age may have done long before his time. Still those who live here in Costa Rica and cherish nature are not too sure that was a good idea. Snakes are a wonderful and valuable  addition to the environment, although most humans want to keep their distance.

Of course, environment was the point. The snake metaphor equated the serpent to the natural religion of the Druids, something Patrick had to fight.

The story of St. Patrick, a Fifth century bishop, is really an excuse for celebration of the Irish people. Although Patrick is widely regarded as a Celt, the present day Irish are a mixture of 

Celts, Anglo Saxons and Scandinavians, plus the later Norman and British arrivals, not to mention a number of Jews.

To further the contradictions, the big St. Patrick Day celebrations are in North America
where millions of Irish found refuge in the Colonial period and in the 1840s to 1920s. A later immigration was spurred by the war in North Ireland in the second half of the last century.

Those who stagger home tonight (or tomorrow morning) 

lack the sense of the Irish struggle  and have simplified the day into a big party. But for parties, I’ll take the, Brazilians, Italians or the Ticos. Corned beef and cabbage is much overrated. Make mine ribeye.

And when I stagger home tonight, it's not because of St. Patrick. Every day is the feast day of some saint. 

Friday is the feast day of San José, the patron of our capital city. Bottoms up!

Grand jury targets online gambling vendors
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A federal grand jury meeting in St. Louis. Mo., is hearing testimony about how U.S. firms do business with offshore gaming enterprises, including those in Costa Rica.

Raymond W. Gruender III, the U.S. attorney or prosecutor for the Eastern District of Missouri, is directing the probe, which some gaming operators see as an attempt  to attack them through third parties.

First word of the investigation came from a story in The New York Times Monday, but there was no clear statement of what the grand jury seeks to achieve. The Times said that Gruender and U.S. Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C., would not comment.

The grand jury seems to be looking into advertising for offshore gambling locations carried by publications and radio stations within the United States. The Times said industry officials think the Justice Department is working on a theory that by carrying an advertisement for offshore gambling, the media outlet is aiding and abetting gambling.

Online gambling is popular but illegal in all U.S. states except Nevada.  The Justice Department and individual prosecutors, both state and federal, have taken a number of actions to hamstring the offshore operations. new York, 

for example, has threatened action against credit card companies based there if they allow cards to be used in online gambling.

Although radio stations and print outlets are covered by the U.S. First Amendment, the Supreme Court has said commercial messages have less protection. The Times said that several major radio chains stopped running ads for offshore casinos last fall because executives feared possible prosecution.

The Times story briefly quoted David Carruthers, chief executive of BetonSports.com, which is based here. he said his ads had been banned from Infinity Broadcasting in the United States.

Gruender, himself, is no stranger to gambling. His Web page features a photograph of the famous St. Louis Arch with a Mississippi riverboat for gamblers anchored in the foreground. Limited stakes gambling in popular on riverboats in states all along the Mississippi River.

The year-old grand jury investigation is expected to continue for several months more.

Online gambling is a major employer in Costa Rica where it is legal and includes online sports betting and online casinos. Carruthers said his firm took in 33 million bets last year, according to The Times.

 
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Municipality decides
to take on vendors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de San José is taking on street vendors again. The councilmen for the canton voted Tuesday night to give the merchants three months to close up their sidewalk shops.

The municipality and the merchants periodically engage in confrontation. The merchants now are generally located along Calle 8 and in the area around the Central Market.  This is an area specified in an agreement in 1995. 

The municipality claims that passers-by say they are unable to use the sidewalks. The merchants sell fruit and vegetables but also hard goods, clothing and sometimes products of dubious precedence.

There are about 500 such small stands where many hundreds of persons find employment. Many are foreigners who are no legal, and working at a fruit stand is one of the few jobs they can get.

Meanwhile, along Avenida 2 the municipality has installed new, metal stands for the vendors there as part of a general cleanup in the area.

Customs law revision
moving along

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional approved a motion Tuesday that would eliminate a section of the new customs law that has caused consternation and financial loss for importers.

The section of the law says that an importer must show the customs declaration of the exporting country in order to claim merchandise from customs or aduana officials.

The problem was that  the need for the documentation was not publicized, and millions of dollars of sometimes perishable products languished in customs because the importing firm did not have the documentation.

Deputy Aida Faingezicht of the ruling Partido Unidad Social Cristiana said she had received countless complaints from persons who found it impossible to comply with the customs requirements. included in the products hung up in customs were medicines. She wondered by administration officials had put the rule into effect without calculating the impact on international commerce.

Omar Chaves decision
is put off for a day

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Omar Chaves, the businessman suspected to helping arrange the murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez, is still in jail. Judges did not have time Tuesday to fully review his case due to conflicts.

That was at the Tribunal de Heredia where the lawyers of Chaves are seeking less stringent methods for their client. In stead of preventative detention they seek conditional freedom with certain stipulations.

These are the same conditions under which the Rev. Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar left prison Friday. He cannot leave the country and must sign in every 15 days with the prosecutor.

Chaves and Calvo both are accused of being the intellectual authors behind the July 7, 2001 drive-by murder of Medina. Both the priest and the businessman were principals in the now-defunct Radio María, which Medina criticized continually.

An alleged middleman, Jhon Gilberto Gutiérrez Ramírez originally implicated the two men, then changes his story and said he was coerced.

Judges are expected to make a decision on the conditional liberty today.

More support for Rodríguez

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Both Argentina and Brazil have given their support to former president Miguel Angel Rodríguez to be secretary general of the Organization of American States.

That brings to 23 the number of nations who have come out publicly for the former president. Presidents of Argentina and Brazil, Néstor 
Kirchner and Luiz Inacio "Lula" Da Silva, made the joint announcement Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.

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U.S. will crack down hard at desert Mexican border
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TUCSON, Ariz.  — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday a major effort to stop immigrant and drug smuggling along the Mexico border with the southwestern state of Arizona, a largely desert area where hundreds of migrants have perished in recent years. One aim of the new plan is to prevent more deaths on the border.

Asa Hutchinson , a U.S. Homeland Security undersecretary, announced the new effort here, not far from the border with Mexico. The plan is called the Arizona Border Control Initiative and involves better coordination between federal agencies, state, local and even Native American Indian tribal authorities in the border region.

One key element is increased cooperation with Mexican authorities to stop immigrant smugglers and the potential use of the border by terrorists. But Rob Daniels, the Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson, said the main objective now is to strengthen enforcement on the U.S. side of the line and to care for people who need emergency help. 

Some 60 additional agents will be able to provide emergency assistance to people along the border, he said.

Daniels said the goal of the program is to have specially trained agents in the field during the hot 

summer months to find people lost in the desert more quickly and provide them with life-saving assistance. "What we are trying to do is to cut down, or in a perfect world, be able to entirely eliminate death from occurring from the smugglers abandoning the migrants who are crossing," he said.

In all, there will be 260 additional agents working the 560-kilometer section of Arizona/Mexico border for the next several months. This will bring the total to around 2,000. In addition, the federal government will deploy four helicopters and some more fixed-wing aircraft in the region.

After border enforcement was increased at major urban areas, primarily in California and Texas, in the mid-1990's, immigrant smugglers began using remote desert trails along the Arizona border. 

The smugglers often leave immigrants on their own once they are across and some are not prepared for the hot, arid conditions there. Last year, the federal government recorded 151 migrant deaths in the sector, but some independent counts exceed 200 deaths.

There were more than 400,000 apprehensions of illegal entrants in the southern Arizona area last year. Arizona-based Border Patrol agents accounted for almost 40 percent of the total illegal immigrant apprehensions nationwide. 


 
Orchid chipments from Perú lead to indictments
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — .A federal grand jury here has returned an indictment charging Manuel G. Arias Silva, a Peruvian national, and George W. Norris, a resident of Spring, Texas, with conspiring to smuggle into the United States protected orchid specimens. 

The rare plants include specimens of the genus Phragmipedium, commonly known as Tropical lady’s slipper orchids. All species of orchid are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

According to the indictment, Arias sold several shipments of orchids to Norris between January of 1999 and October of 2003. Arias would allegedly obtain a permit for the shipment from Peruvian authorities that authorized the export of certain numbers of artificially-propagated specimens of particular species of orchids. 

Arias, at the instruction of Norris, would then include in the shipment specimens of species not included on the permit, said the indictment, the indictment said, adding that to conceal the illegal activity, he would falsely label the protected species as a species listed on the permit. 

Prosecutors claim Arias would provide to Norris a code or "key" that would give Norris a means for 

deciphering the false labels and identifying the true species of the orchids. In some instances Arias shipped orchids that were collected wild rather than artificially propagated, said the indictment. One shipment in February of 2003 included some 1,145 specimens, of which approximately 490 were of species not authorized for export by the accompanying permit, said the indictment. 

In addition, Arias is charged with two counts and Norris with one count of making a false statement to federal authorities. Norris faces an additional two counts of smuggling related to alleged sales and domestic shipments of orchids that he knew had been imported contrary to law. 

If convicted, the maximum penalty for each of the counts of the indictment is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is a treaty to which the United States and Perú, along with over 160 other nations, are parties. 

The indictment alleges that the men used invalid permits for the shipments and falsely labeled many of the plants shipped to cover up the lack of a valid permit. The shipments all were allegedly for commercial purposes. An indictment is a formal accusation and is not proof of guilt. Defendants are presumed innocent until and unless they are found guilty. 


 
U.S., Honduras sign pact on pre-Columbian imports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The United States and Honduras have signed an agreement to protect pre-Columbian archaeological material representing the heritage of Honduras

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Larry L. Palmer represented the U.S. Government. The Honduran minister of foreign affairs, Leonidas Rosa Bautista, represented his country.

The agreement was signed here last week with the goal of protecting the what remains of pre-Columbian civilizations. The agreement recognizes that this national heritage is in jeopardy from pillage and enables the imposition of U.S. import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological material ranging in date from approximately 1200 B.C. to approximately 1500 A.D. 

The agreement protects pre-Columbian archaeological material that includes objects made of ceramic (such as polychrome painted vessels of the Ulúa Valley), metal, stone (such as Ulúa style carved marble vessels), shell, and animal bone. This material is representative of the cultures of pre-Columbian Honduras that include the Maya, Chorti Maya, Lenca, Jicaque and Pipil cultures. 

Honduras sought such assistance from the United States under international treaty, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol promulgated the regulations for the import restriction on Tuesday.

Honduras is considered the Mesoamerican frontier — a unique archaeological record including sites and artifacts much like those from all time periods in Mesoamerica, as well as features more closely tied with cultural groups in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, traditionally viewed as outside of Mesoamerica. 

The diverse and rich archaeological record reflects these ties making the pre-history of Honduras unique in Central America. Parts of western Honduras are considered part of ancient Mesoamerica, defined by the occupation of Maya culture.

This agreement and import restrictions were made in response to pillage of archaeological sites, said the United States, adding that pillage disturbs the context of otherwise intact sites, depriving scientific research of important information about the cultures of Honduras. Pillage endangers important sites, such as Copan, a designated World Heritage Site, El Puente, Los Naranjos, and many others. 

By entering into this agreement, the United States said it demonstrates its respect for the cultural heritage of Honduras and decries the global pillage that results in illicit trade in cultural objects and the irretrievable loss of information about human history. The United States said it hopes this action will reduce the incentive for further pillage of the unique and non-renewable cultural heritage of the people of Honduras.

In addition to imposing import restrictions, the agreement calls upon both governments to encourage academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and other private entities to cooperate in the exchange of knowledge and information about the cultural patrimony of Honduras, and to collaborate in the preservation and protection of such cultural patrimony through technical assistance, training, cultural resource management, public education, and museum development.

Honduras is the fourth Central American country to enter into such a bilateral agreement with the U.S. The others are El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.


 
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No country safe from terror, INTERPOL chief says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANILA, The Philippines — The secretary general of INTERPOL has warned that the threat of more terror attacks by al-Qaida and related groups remains the agency's biggest challenge and that no area of the world is safe.

The secretary general, Ronald Noble, said the train bombings in Madrid last week that left more than 200 people dead was a stark reminder that al Qaida-style terrorism is intended to hurt the whole world.

"Just a few days ago, we were once again brutally reminded that the type of attacks that al Qaida-like terrorist groups use are among the most troubling to us law enforcement officials and as a world community," he said. "No region of the world is exempt, and no region has been spared from al-Qaida-like terrorists." He spoke Tuesday in Manila at the opening of a regional conference for members of INTERPOL, the International Police Agency.

A video recording claiming to be from al-Qaida said the terror group was responsible for the bombings in Spain last week. However, Spanish authorities have not confirmed an al-Qaida role. The attack is widely believed responsible for an upset victory Sunday by Spain’s Socialist, who want to pull the country’s troops from Iraq.

Noble said the Madrid bombings illustrate why al Qaida-style attacks - hitting simultaneous targets to inflict the maximum number of casualties - are the biggest challenge facing INTERPOL. He says the attacks are designed to kill as many people as possible and preferably from as many countries as possible. He points out that people from 12 countries were killed or wounded in Madrid.

"Any large-scale terrorist attack attributable to al Qaida or possessing al-Qaida-like characteristics has a negative impact on the security of citizens not only of those countries directly targeted but also on all citizens," said Noble. "In light of our experience, Interpol believes no government can honestly say to its citizens that they do not have to be concerned about terrorism."

Al Qaida is believed to have been responsible for the September 2001 attacks in the United States and a series of bombings in other parts of the world over the past several years.

The secretary general says the agency's 181 member countries are committed to working together to help keep the world safer from terrorism. 

Costa Rica does not have troops in Iraq, but President Abel Pacheco supported the U.S. role, generating significant negative reaction from the citizens.


 
Diplomatic fur is flying over Aristide's return
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Haiti's prime minister has suspended diplomatic relations with Jamaica following the arrival Monday in Kingston of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has called Jamaica's decision to host Aristide for at least a few weeks an unfriendly act that will only increase tensions in Haiti. 

At the same time, Venezuela volunteered as a country where Aristide cold live and rejected the legality of the Latortue administration.

Latortue said he was recalling Haiti's ambassador to Kingston and reconsidering the country's relationship with the Caribbean Community economic group. 

Aristide says he is in Jamaica to visit his daughters, who live there. Jamaican officials say they have told him not to use the trip as a platform to seek reinstatement in Haiti. 

Aristide flew to Jamaica from the Central African Republic, where he fled last month after resigning as rebels were closing in on the capital, Port-au-Prince. He continues to accuse the United States of forcing him to resign, an accusation Washington strongly denies. 

In another development, the U.N.'s new special envoy for Haiti arrived in Port-au-Prince on Monday. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says veteran diplomat Reginald Dumas of Trinidad and Tobago will focus his efforts on helping to find a 

solution to the country's persistent political impasse. 

Latortue is expected to soon appoint a new government, but Venezuela says it does not recognize Haiti's new administration. 

Latortue says he wants to create a national unity government that will bring together members of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas party with opposition leaders. 

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that his country does not recognize Haiti's new government, and said he considers ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be the country's true leader. Chavez also said that his government would allow Aristide to take refuge in Venezuela. 

Jamaica says it may issue a decision on whether to recognize the new Haitian administration after next week's Caribbean Community regional summit in Saint Kitts and Nevis. 

The White House has also said Aristide's presence in Jamaica is "not helpful" to Haitian democracy and stability. But Jamaican officials say they have told the ex-president not to use the trip as a platform to seek reinstatement in his country. 

Aristide said in an interview published Tuesday that he hopes his return to the Caribbean from Africa will comfort his supporters in Haiti. Aristide fled Haiti Feb. 29 for the Central African Republic in the midst of an armed rebellion and growing international pressure. 


 
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