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These stories were published Friday, March 22, 2002
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ladies and gentlemen, the envelope, please.

. . . This week’s Oscar for most incompetent crook goes to . . . 

[drum roll]

Jason Zuñiga!    Police said the 17-year-old  was the armed robber who stuck up a Chinese restaurant in Zapote about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

The robber pistol-whipped the owner’s wife who was working in the restaurant. Then he made her take him to the living quarters in the back so he could steal household appliances. There he also found the owner.

As the robber went to pick up some appliances to steal, he used both hands and left his gun on the bed. The restaurant owner quickly picked up the weapon, confronted the robber and then plugged him in the side with his own gun in the ensuing struggle.

Zuñiga couldn’t be present for tonight’s ceremony.
 

Crucitas mining firm
outlines its impact

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The firm that wants to operate an open-pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica says it has submitted an environmental impact study to the appropriate authorities in San José.

The news comes as thousands of protesters are getting ready to demonstrate against the venture today in Ciudad Quesada. Demonstrators are upset that the project would be only about 3 kilometers (less than two miles) from the environmentally rich San Juan River. They fear the cyanide leaching process that will be used to extract the gold will pollute the river.

The firm, Vannessa Ventures Ltd., said its subsidiary, Industrias Infinto, S.A., has submitted the study to the Secretaria Tecnica National Ambiental (SETENA), the environmental watchdog for the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia.

The firm said that approval from the Secretaria Tecnica is the last essential requirement for construction of the mine, which is called the Crucitas Gold Project. (See earlier story here 031802.htm)

The march is set to begin at 9 a.m. in the Liceo San Carlos. Ciudad Quesada is the largest town in the area, although the mining site is about 50 kms. (30 miles) to the north. The march will be restricted to the city, and some University of Costa Rica activists are planning bus rentals for San José area residents. 

The opponents, an amalgamation of about seven environmental organizations, including some who successfully opposed oil drilling offshore from Limón, said they had invited both presidential candidates to the march. There was no indication they would attend.

According to Vannessa, the project "is considered one of Central America's premier gold projects" The target is a multi-million ounce deposit comprised of a gold-bearing saprolite (weathered oxidized soil) and gold-bearing hard rock, the firm said.

The firm said that independent appraisers estimated the gold, including the nearby Conchudita Concession at 2.7 million ounces of gold and silver. Gold was selling Thursday at about $293 per ounce. Estimating ore is a difficult and uncertain task. The firm said previous owners spent $32 million just to estimate the gold and silver supply that is held in the rock in quantities of just a few grams per ton.

The firm expects to spent about $27 million to bring the mine into operation. The firm will have to use leaching techniques to get the gold from the massive amounts of rock that will be mined in the open pit.

Damaged La Casona
open to public again

By the A.M.  Costa Rica staff

The country celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Santa Rosa by reopening the historic La Casona that was nearly destroyed by an arson fire May 9.

At nearly the same time, the criminal section of the Supreme Court was upholding the 20-year sentence leveled against the arsonists, Geovanny Mora Cruz, 41, and Roy Calvo Barquero, 22. 

The 1856 Battle of Santa Rosa marked Costa Rica’s first victory against the invading filibusters led by William Walker, a U.S. adventurer. April 11, the anniversary of the decisive Battle of Rivas, is a national holiday.

The reconstruction of the sprawling building took about 300 days, and showed that public works in Costa Rica could get done expeditiously.

The televised ceremony Wednesday featured much patriotism and a speech by President Miguel Angel Rodríguez, who left for the Monterrey, Mexico, U.N. meeting on development and poverty immediately thereafter.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Learning to be patient has its rewards

"Patience, patience, patience. That’s what we need," said the man waiting with me at the door of the X-ray Department of the Clinica Duran. "And lots of it," he added. 

I nodded my head in agreement. I had been here last Wednesday in the reception area with my doctor’s order for a chest X-ray. When my number was called, I was told I was in the wrong place and should go directly to X-ray. The little man on the other side of the dutch door had told me to come back Monday morning at 8 a.m. Now it was 8:15 on Monday morning and the same little man behind the dutch door was telling me that I should go to reception and make an appointment. 

I balked. "But you yourself told me . . ."I began. I worked at sounding perplexed rather than annoyed. He immediately conceded and told me to go sit down until someone called me. Sure, I thought. But I hardly had time to open my book when my name was called loud and clear over the loudspeaker and within 15 minutes I had had my X-ray and smiling assurance from the little man that I could pick it up in three days to take to my doctor. . 

By 9 a.m. I was on the 13th floor of the Caja Annex where Linda (the expat, who is the resident information guru) told me I should go to hand in my receipts showing that I had changed the required amount of dollars into colones in the past year in order to maintain my status as a pensionada. 

Except for two cleaning women, I was the only one there for about five minutes. Then a pretty young woman appeared at the window, looked over what I had and said it was fine and gave me a receipt for it. I knew it could not be fine, just like that. "Is that all?" I asked. "Don’t I have to get some stamps or something to put on the receipts or proof that I am who I am?" She just laughed and assured me the matter was taken care of.

Back on the street at 9:15 I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I wandered through the Artistica furniture store and then walked to the farmacia for a couple of items. As I headed for the bus stop, I recalled that fares had gone up in the past month. 

A new law and executive decree was in effect. It stated that citizens and residents with a Ciudadano de Oro (gold card) would ride free on buses going as far as 25 kilometers and get a 50 percent discount if they were traveling 26 to 50 kilometers and 25 percent discount on more than 50 kilometers. 

The hikes in the fares for others would pay for it. I had been told that this was already happening but people were waiting for hours in long lines to sign up. Since I had expected to wait hours anyway, and my bus stop was right next to the Caja, I went in. I was told to go around to the side of the building. There, under an awning were rows of folding chairs and dozens of "ancianas" ("senior citizens) in the chairs. 

A friendly young man with an earring in his ear gave me ficha number 98 and personally took me to the third row where he told me to sit next to a lady with ficha number 97. I asked him how many hours, more or less, the wait was. He assured me it was "un ratito." I settled down and dug my book out of my bag. I had actually been looking forward to reading it. It was 9:40. 

Before I finished one page, we were told to move from row three to row two, and the people in row one entered the building. Aha, I thought. Very clever. They will keep moving us about, and we will think we’re getting somewhere. In a couple of minutes we were told to move to row one. I put my book back in my bag. In a couple of more minutes I was inside the building and told to sit at one of the two desks. 

A very pleasant older gentleman asked me if I spoke Spanish "bastante." I said I spoke enough for the kitchen, but not to discuss politics. He proceeded to explain to me what I was to do to ride free, peppering his speech with English words here and there. 

He gave me 31 tickets printed in pale gold. Each ticket was perforated into three sections. One for trips up to 7 kilometers, one for trips between 7 and 14 kilometers and the third for trips up to 25 kilometers. The nice man explained to me that I should come back in a month, on a Friday, to get more tickets. 

He was in no hurry to rush me and he was very helpful. He said I should show my gold card and cedula when I presented my ticket to the bus driver but probably soon wouldn’t need to. I realized that in Costa Rica, patience is often rewarded with really pleasant encounters with people graciously doing their jobs.

As I left (noting that it was 10 a.m.), I tore off ticket number one. I stood in the line waiting for the bus. And we waited. A wind with an icy edge had come up. The line got longer. I have never waited so long for a bus. The girl next to me said, "In Costa Rica, one needs patience."

I smiled. "Sometimes we do," I agreed.

When I boarded the bus, the driver took my little ticket without looking at my cedula or gold card. It is going to be so nice not having to make the bus driver wait while I fumble around in my wallet for the correct change. 

 More of Jo Stuart’s columns are HERE
 

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Gigantic chunk of Antarctic ice shelf drops off
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BOULDER, Colo. — Scientists using satellite imagery report that a large portion of an ice shelf on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula has shattered and separated from the continent due to strong climate warming in the region.

Researchers at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center said the northern section of the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed, a section that is believed to have existed since the last major glaciation 12,000 years ago.

Ice shelves are thick plates of ice, fed by glaciers, which float on the ocean around much of Antarctica.

The scientists said the dramatic event is the latest in a series of retreats by ice shelves on the peninsula over the last 30 years attributed to climate warming. The rate of warming is approximately 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade, and the trend has been present since the late 1940s.

International cooperation between U.S., Argentinean, British, Austrian and German scientists has resulted in detailed information on the retreating ice shelves from field observations, shipboard studies and satellite sensors.

Recent satellite imagery revealed that the shattered section of the Larsen B ice shelf has formed a plume of thousands of icebergs adrift in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula. A total of about 3,250 square kilometers of shelf area disintegrated in a 35-day period beginning Jan. 31. The area lost dwarfs the U.S. state of Rhode Island in size.

Overall on the peninsula, the extent of seven ice shelves has declined by a total of about 13,500 square kilometers since 1974.

While the breakup of ice shelves such as Larsen B will not raise sea level, scientists are concerned because the ice shelves act as a buttress, or braking system, for glaciers. Once gone, the glaciers can diminish faster, dumping more ice into the ocean than they gather as snow.

More importantly, regions of the giant Ross ice shelf are just a few degrees Celsius away from undergoing the same kind of retreat process that has destroyed Larsen. 

The Ross ice shelf is the main outlet for several major glaciers draining the West Antarctic ice sheet. If it breaks away, it has the potential to release ice with water volume equal to five meters of sea level rise.

Bush outlines his hopes for his Latin American trip
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

President Bush will underscore his strong belief that "the best foreign policy for America is to have a peaceful, democratic and prosperous neighborhood" in his Latin American trip this weekend.

Interviewed Wednesday at the White House by a reporter from Univision, a popular U.S. Spanish-language cable television network, Bush outlined his objectives for his upcoming trip while also responding to concerns about whether the United States is neglecting Latin America in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.

While the United States has had to devote much time and attention to combating terrorism, the president said that his administration remains fully engaged with the nations of the Western Hemisphere and closely follows developments.

After his scheduled address to the Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, Mexico, Bush will meet with Mexico's President Vicente Fox for discussions on a wide range of bilateral issues. The U.S.-Mexico relationship "has not diminished," Bush noted. And in view of the booming commerce between the two countries, as well as the heightened importance of border security in a 

post-Sept. 11 world, "that relationship is as strong as ever," he declared.

Immigration is obviously "a big issue" for both Mexico and the United States, Bush said. He added that "we need to continue a dialogue" to address the status of undocumented Mexican immigrants who live and work in the United States. Bush suggested that he favors an approach that would match up willing workers with willing employers.

The president also said that his stop in Peru will give him an opportunity to talk about the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) with Peru's President Alejandro Toledo and leaders of other Andean nations. Bush is urging Congress to renew the legislation in order to promote economic growth for Andean countries that are eligible for enhanced U.S. market-access under the terms of the ATPA. He is personally "committed" to ATPA renewal, Bush said, and will "fight for it" on Capitol Hill.

His final stop, in El Salvador, "will give me a chance to talk about the importance of that region" as the United States pursues negotiations for a significant free-trade agreement with the nations of Central America, Bush said. He will meet with Salvadoran President Francisco Flores Perez and other leaders from Central America, including Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguez, before returning to the United States.


News service says
CIA targeted Chavez

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Venezuelan online news service said that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency planned to assassinate Hugo Chavez Frias, the charismatic and embattled president there.

"U.S. planners were lending support to one or more anti-Chavez Frias plotters to be installed as Washington puppets in the event of a successful bid to kill the president," said the online news service, VHeadline.com, adding that George Bush knew of the plan.

"Spanish-speaking U.S. military operatives are already present in Venezuela lending logistic support to several anti-government terror cells in what's described as ‘a fail-safe plan’ to dislodge Chavez Frias and to win U.S. control over strategic oil supplies," the news service said, citing unnamed high placed diplomatic sources.

The news service made the allegation Feb. 8, and said that the assassination plan was shelved 

because it published the story. But Wednesday the news service cited a story by Radio Union News Network saying that Bolivarian Professional & Technical Workers Union leader Gerardo Ramirez has turned in evidence to Venezuela's Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez which supports the story. www.vheadline.com/0203/11574.htm

The news service now says that Bush did not know about the plan.

Vheadline is a daily news report that pioneered such a service on the Internet. Editor Roy S. Carson is seen as a supporter of President Chavez, but he is not known for publishing material without a strong basis in fact.

Latin Americans are sensitive to such claims because the United States was instrumental in bringing down the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and promoting a military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile nearly 30 years ago. Recently declassified documents show that the U.S. involvement was far deeper than suspected.

In response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Bush recently lifted an executive order that forbade U.S. officials from conducting assassinations worldwide.


 
Police arrest suspect
in tourist car thefts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man police said targeted rental cars driven by foreigners has been arrested.

Police said the man, whose last name is Diaz, preyed on vehicles parked in the area of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros in Barrio Amon. Investigators said they had just one complaint from a foreigner who had his rental car ransacked while it was parked near there, but they expected more.

The towering insurance monopoly building also houses the famous Jade Museum, which is a frequent stop for tourists. Rental cars are obvious to thieves because of stickers and the license plate numbers.

Agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested the man at his house in Granadilla Norte de Curridabat. They found him because he drove a red four-wheel drive vehicle that witnesses were able to describe.

Three men held 
as bag snatchers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators grabbed three men Wednesday as suspected members of a criminal group that stole bags and briefcases throughout metropolitan San José. 

The men were facing at least seven complaints, although investigators said they thought that there were many other victims. They urged such victims to contact them in the División de Robos of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents also said that this group was only one of several who are committing the same crimes throughout the city.

Police arrested the men while they were traveling in a car in Barrio Luján in southeast San José. There were identified by the last names Albanco, Camacho and Gomez.

This particular gang used to concentrate on supermarkets and restaurants, said police. Sometimes they would menace the people as they took their goods, said a spokesman. Then they would use the checkbooks they might find in the stolen bags to purchase merchandise at stores.

The gang liked to buy auto batteries, taxi meters and locks with the checks. But they had a twist to their efforts. If the clerk in the story they frequented questioned the validity of a stolen check, one man would distract the clerk while the others shoplifted the goods they wanted.

Investigators said this was not the group about which a woman complained in a letter to A.M. Costa Rica. Paula Loftis of Quepos/Manuel Antonio said that a nicely dressed and professional appearing woman stole her shoulder bag at Plaza del Sol March 6. See LETTER.

Investigators said that the three men arrested Wednesday did not have a woman companion. But other groups at work in the city do, they said.

They asked to be contacted by victims at these numbers; 295-3305, -3306, -3307 and -3308.
 

Argentine support
linked to reforms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says the international community will support Argentina once it makes reforms for sustainable economic growth.

Speaking here, Ms. Rice said the United States backs talks between the cash-strapped South American nation and the International Monetary Fund. She stressed that working with the IMF is the best way for Argentina to create conditions to help it emerge from its four-year recession. 

Ms. Rice made her comments during a news conference previewing President Bush's trip to Latin America, which began later Thursday.

The latest round of meetings between Argentina and the IMF ended last week in Buenos Aires, with the lending agency saying it would prepare for more talks on a new loan package. Argentine officials are seeking about $20 billion to help end the recession that has left more than 20 percent of its workforce unemployed. 

In December, the IMF refused to approve a loan payment to Argentina of more than $1 billion, saying the government had failed to control spending. President Bush told Latin American reporters on Tuesday in Washington that Argentina is of great concern to his administration.
 
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Immigration changes
planned for Mexico

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush has told a Mexican television station he is pressing ahead with plans to reform immigration laws that affect millions of Mexican migrants working illegally in the United States. 

In an interview with Mexico's TV Azteca Wednesday, Bush told interviewer Armando Guzman that his proposal currently before the U.S. Senate is just the first step in his immigration reform plan. He said good relations with Mexico are a major part of his foreign policy and a strong Mexico is good for the United States. 

Mexico wants Washington to grant legal immigration status to millions of Mexicans currently living and working illegally in the United States. Earlier this week, President Bush urged the Senate to pass a bill that would increase border security but allow illegal immigrants from Mexico to stay in the United States while seeking residency. 

In his TV Azteca interview, Bush dismissed critics who charge that Washington is trying to make Mexico subordinate to the United States. He said he and Mexican President Vicente Fox are friends and that, whether they agree or disagree, they always maintain good relations. 

Bush is expected to meet with Mr. Fox later this week on the sidelines of the U.N. Poverty summit in Monterrey, Mexico. Bush has said the issue of Mexican migrants is a top priority of his administration, but talks on the subject were postponed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
 

Cuban trade group
formed in Congress

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of U.S. lawmakers opposed to the trade embargo against Cuba are pressing for a broader opening to the Communist-led island. The House of Representatives' Cuba Working Group has 34 members, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Organizers believe additional lawmakers will join in the coming weeks. 

The group is seeking to lift the travel ban to Cuba and to allow private financing for agricultural sales to the island. 

The group's leader, Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, says the best way to bring about democratic change in Cuba is through engagement, not isolation. "Average American citizens are our best diplomats," he said. "They represent our culture, our character and our ideals. Unfortunately we have isolated the Cuban people and so the only voice they hear is Castro's." 

Rep.William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, agrees that the four-decades-old embargo has failed. "It has failed the Cuban people because it certainly has not brought more freedoms to them, nor has it created more political space," he said. "But as importantly, it has failed the American people, because as my colleague has indicated it has restricted one of our fundamental constitutional rights, the right to travel." 

Delahunt said it is ironic that while Americans are barred from visiting Cuba, they can travel to Iran and North Korea, two countries named by President Bush as part of an axis of evil. 

More than 100,000 Americans visited Cuba last year with special licenses. Some 60,000 others traveled there illegally, and many of them received thousands of dollars in fines by the Treasury Department, which has increased its enforcement of the law. The House of Representatives voted last July to lift the travel ban. The Senate has yet to act on the measure. 

Any easing of the trade embargo against Cuba has been vehemently opposed by the politically influential Cuban-American community, based largely in Florida. President Bush, who enjoys strong support among Cuban Americans, has vowed to strengthen the embargo against Havana. An administration review of U.S. policy toward Cuba is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Generals, IRA leader
asked to testify

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. lawmakers have invited top Colombian military officials and Gerry Adams, the head of the Irish Republican Army's political wing, to testify on alleged IRA links to Colombian rebels. 

The House International Relations Committee says it sent the invitations to Colombian armed forces leader Gen. Fernando Tapias and head of the national police Gen. Luis Ernesto Gilibert in addition to Mr. Adams. The hearing is set for April 24 here.

U.S. lawmakers say none of the three men has responded to the invitations. The committee says it is investigating whether suspected IRA training exercises with Colombia's FARC rebels influenced recent rebel attacks in the country. 

Lawmakers also say they want to know what information Sinn Fein may have about suspected IRA activities with the FARC, which the committee label as "narco-terrorists." 

The committee has been conducting a four-month investigation into links between the two organizations. The probe follows the arrest in Colombia last August of three Irish men suspected of teaching the Colombian rebels how to make bombs and non-conventional weapons. 

The suspects, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly, deny the charges. 


 
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