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These stories were published Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Two tourists bask in the Pacific breezes on the balcony of Posada Playa Tortuga, one of the many hotels and resorts that will be full to overflowing next week. But the beach below is the main attraction.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Nation gears for Semana Santa and beaches
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is heading for a big slowdown.  Maybe even a stop. Semana Santa is coming. This is the time when many Costa Ricans take off 10 days and set up housekeeping at the beach.

Technically, only Thursday, March 28, and Friday, March 29, Good Friday in Catholic tradition, are official holidays, but many businesses close up shop the whole week and maybe even take a day or two off at the end of this week to prepare for the holiday.

Sunday is Palm Sunday in the Catholic Church, and Easter Sunday is March 31, a week later. A percentage of practicing Catholics will spend the week in prayer and religious services, including long processions around the parish of each local church. Palm Sunday is the traditional day that Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem in triumph. Good Friday commemorates his trial before Roman Procurator Pontius Pilot and his death on a cross. Easter Sunday commemorates his resurrection and triumph over death, all key dogmas of Christianity.

The large Jewish population of Costa Rica will not be left out. Sundown Thursday, March 27, this year marks the beginning of Passover, an eight-day holiday. The first two nights are spent in ritual dining with lavish meals, called seders. This is the commemoration of the Jews avoiding the 10th plague while captives in Egypt and their release and escape through the parting Red Sea. 

The 10th plague was the death of every male firstborn child, and the Jews were instructed by Moses to mark their door with the blood of a lamb so that the Angle of Death would "pass over" the dwellings of the faithful.

There is not quite as much tradition at the beach, but for many Ticos, that’s the best part. Most hotels have been booked for weeks at their top prices. So the week is a bonanza for tourist locations. Those Costa Ricans who 

cannot afford a room or prefer the sand will take advantage of national law that lets them set up tents to camp on the public portion of the beach, which might also be in front of some fancy hotel.

More pragmatically, Semana Santa marks the tail end of the high, dry season as the country begins to move toward eight months of often daily rain. So Ticos will be taking advantage of the last gasps of "summer," and hotel owners will be counting their income to see exactly what kind of season it was.

One of the seasonal treats is the conserva de chiverre, made from pumpkin-size squash sold in supermarkets but better purchased at a roadside stand in the country. The contents are cooked, and sugar added to produce a brown jelly which is somewhat an acquired taste.  A shortcut is to purchase the liquid extract available in supermarkets. The jelly can be the sweet center of empanadas.

Arroz con leche is another traditional treat, as well as plates making heavy use of sardines and other sea foods. 

You need to buy your alcohol ahead of time, because liquor sales are prohibited from Thursday until the Monday after Easter. Then quickly they will be banned again for the 72 hours around the April 7 runoff presidential election. That includes over-the-counter sales in bars.

Most government offices will work with a short staff the first three days of Semana Santa or Holy Week then close Thursday and Friday. So will the national post offices. Public transportation will be reduced, too.

But not on the highways where transit officials expect more than a million persons to be on the road headed to the beach or to family reunions. About 20 persons died in traffic accidents during that period last year. San José still will have a lot of activity, including the big afternoon procession to the Cathedral with hundreds of participants.

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FBI hits international child porno Internet ring
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has dismantled an international computer-based child pornography ring and arrested scores of its members, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday.

Ashcroft revealed that the FBI's investigation, "Operation Candyman," began in January 2001 and that it continues. In the past 14 months, he said, the "56 national FBI field offices investigated hundreds of individuals who were subscribers to the 'Candyman' e-mail group," a Yahoo on-line community whose members uploaded, downloaded or traded sexually explicit images of children.

The group had a single purpose, Ashcroft said, "to exploit and degrade children." Twenty seven of those arrested have admitted to abusing 36 children, Ashcroft said.

He said at a briefing that the investigation has uncovered an estimated 7,000 members of the 

group, including some 2,400 outside the United States.

"It is clear that a new marketplace for child pornography has emerged from the dark corners of cyberspace. Innocent boys and girls have been targeted by offenders who view them as sexual objects," Ashcroft said.

"There will be no free ride on the Internet for traffickers of child pornography," Ashcroft said, warning that those who engage in that activity would be tracked down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"Forty individuals in 20 states are now in custody, with another 50 expected by week's end," said Bruce Gebhardt, FBI executive assistant director. 

"They include members of the clergy, law enforcement officers, a nurse, a teacher’s aide, a school bus driver, and others entrusted with protecting, nurturing and educating the American youth."

U.S. indicts 3 rebels
as drug traffickers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Prosecutors in the United States have announced drug-trafficking indictments against three Colombian rebels, in what amounts to the first drug- related charges ever filed against members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. 

Seven people in all, three Colombians, three Brazilians and one unidentified person, are all charged with conspiring to manufacture and smuggle cocaine into the United States. 

"At this time, all but one of the defendants are believed to be at large in Colombia." Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "These FARC members are charged with exchanging cocaine for the weapons and material that supported their activities."

Ashcroft wants all seven extradited to the United States for trial, and says the United States may ultimately have to get involved if it wants to make sure they are brought to justice. "We will use every appropriate means at our disposal," he said. "But I don't want to indicate in specific that we are going to be involving the military at this time."

 Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer and FARC rebels finance their activities largely through the drug trade. 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Ever wonder what to do with empty wine bottles? Well, at the 7th Festival Folclorico de Verano de San José 2002 on the Avenida Central Boulevard in downtown they know what to do. A little decoration, and they are folk art. The artists’ fair ends today.
New pact targets drug money laundering system
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States, Colombia, Aruba, Panama and Venezuela have signed an agreement to expand their cooperation against a vast  money-laundering system known as the black market peso exchange. 

"Money laundering takes place on a global scale, and the black market peso exchange system, though based in the Western Hemisphere, affects business around the world," said a U.S. Treasury undersecretary, Jimmy Gurulé, after the signing here.

The five countries created a working group in 2000 to target the complex system, which is used to launder an estimated $3 billion to $6 billion in illegal drug profits annually, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The exchange allows drug traffickers to transfer 

their U.S. profits from dollars to pesos without moving cash across borders. Typically, peso brokers pay the traffickers for the dollars, which remain in the United States and are deposited in U.S. bank accounts by agents of the brokers.

The brokers then use those dollars to buy U.S. goods and smuggle them tax-free into Colombia. Products are often smuggled into Colombia through Panama, Aruba and Venezuela.

Recommendations approved by the five-country working group include proposals to improve collection and sharing of trade and customs data,  promote early warning systems within trading companies to better detect suspicious purchases and improve financial-services regulation.

The group also proposed better oversight of free-trade zones, and suggested that companies involved in international trade be better educated about money-laundering trends and methods.

Alert continues high
after church attack

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Diplomatic missions and other foreign installations across Pakistan remain on high alert Monday, as authorities hunt for those behind Sunday's deadly assault on a Protestant church here.

The hand grenade attack near the U.S. embassy killed five worshippers and wounded 45 others. The dead include an American diplomat's wife and their teenage daughter, an Afghan, a Pakistani and a fifth unidentified victim, possibly the attacker. 

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has ordered an intensive manhunt as well as a high-level security meeting Tuesday to examine security measures at the church and other foreign installations. 

Sunday Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said church officials had recently stopped Pakistani security forces from searching people entering the church, after church-goers complained of being inconvenienced. 

It is not clear what security was in place at or near the church when the attack occurred, and no one has claimed responsibility. 

The Protestant International Church is attended by diplomatic families from about a dozen countries. Witnesses say about 70 worshipers were listening to a sermon in the church when a lone attacker entered, began shouting, and then started throwing grenades. 

U.S. issues warning
to citizens abroad

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — The grenade attack at a Protestant church in Islamabad has caused the U.S. State Department to issue another worldwide warning to U.S. citizens abroad.

The government continues to receive credible reports that extremists are planning additional terrorist actions against U.S. interests, said the warning, saying that such attacks "may be imminent and include suicide operations."

However, the government said it had no specifics. Still it said that the church attack suggests that terrorists will seek softer targets as security is increased at official U.S. facilities.

"These may include facilities where Americans are generally known to congregate or visit, such as clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools or outdoor recreation events," said the warning.  "Americans should increase their security awareness when they are at such locations, avoid them, or switch to other locations where Americans in large numbers generally do not congregate."

The government also said that kidnapping might be a weapon used against U.S. citizens.

U.S. facilities overseas may on occasion temporarily close or suspend public services to review their security said the warning, citing such facilities as consulates and embassies.

U.S. tourist dies
in surf mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 21-year-old tourist from Tennessee died in the Caribbean Sunday afternoon when he was caught by a rip tide, according to investigators.

They said the man, Mark Wiggins, was in the surf with a friend when both were caught by the backflow. Both men fought to get out of the rip tide, but only the friend, who was not identified, succeeded, said agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Wiggins had been in the country just four days, they said. The accident happened in Puerto Viejo about 5:20 p.m., they said

Annan ends visit
with official chat

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Kofi Annan, The U. N. secretary-general, wrapped up an official visit to Costa Rica Monday, where he met with senior officials and visited the University for Peace west of San José. 

The secretary-general held a private meeting today in San José with President Miguel Angel Rodríguez Echevarria, according to a spokesman traveling with Annan. 

During his visit to the University of Peace Saturday, University Rector Martin Lees thanked Annan for challenging the institution to revitalize itself. 

After meeting with the president Monday, Annan broke his silence and spoke with reporters. He said that the University for Peace should continue working to develop and prepare more students in the areas of conflict and development.

The secretary-general also said that Costa Rica’s new paternity law that makes men responsible for the children they father would serve as a model to be presented to other countries at a coming U.S. conference on children.

Antipoverty confab
opens in Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTERREY, Mexico — A U.N. conference aimed at finding ways to end world poverty opened Monday in Monterrey, Mexico. The main events will occur later in the week when President Bush and more than 40 other world leaders come together to discuss development aid.

The object of the conference in Monterrey is to develop a global strategy for stamping out poverty. The draft document that has emerged encourages industrialized nations to spend at least 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product on development aid for poor nations. The document also expresses support for an expansion of world trade as a road to development.

Mexican President Vicente Fox will formally open the summit portion of the conference on Thursday.

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