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These stories were published Friday, April 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 66
Jo Stuart
About us
Most of these visitors are not patients. They are here to lend support to those family members who are.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
The best way to visit a hospital: as a reporter
Last week I saw the new Calderón Guardia Emergency hospital under conditions I far prefer: as a reporter. 

When we peered into the spacious and spotless operating room with its brand new equipment, I asked Dr. Jorge Dias Vargas if he was happy to have this new facility (stupid question). His face lit up and his eyes twinkled. He is chief of surgery at the hospital and was explaining and showing me the layout. It was even more interesting than I thought it would be.

First there is the ambulance entrance, where the hospital staff is ready even before the arrival of the patient because the Red Cross drivers are in touch with them via special phone to alert them to the type of emergency they are bringing. These are usually surgical emergencies that include all kinds of wounds from acts of violence and accidents. At the hospital the alarm is sounded for all available doctors and nurses to congregate in the surgical area. When I was there waiting to get an X-Ray a couple of days before, such an emergency occurred and I watched the heightened activity and bleeding patients from an automobile accident being wheeled into X-ray. I could not work in a hospital. 

Most of the other emergencies arrive via the front door and waiting room. These are emergencies that include asthmatic episodes, heart attacks, and less serious ones like uncontrolled diarrhea and celulitis. The patients see a consulting doctor and are passed along to the proper department. Then there are emergencies that begin with stomach complaints, like appendicitis that go directly to surgery. 

The gynecological emergencies go to Obstetrics for an impromptu delivery or observation, or if it is something like an infection or bleeding, it is treated immediately. And finally there is the psychiatric emergency, including attempted suicides and psychotic episodes. It all looked orderly on paper and then as he took me for a walk-through, it still looked orderly  and spacious. Very, very different from the old section of the hospital. 

On our walk through Dr. Vargas was greeted warmly by members of the staff. There are about 30 doctors on duty at one time and countless nurses, I was told. At one point he stopped to ask after a patient being wheeled in a chair down the hall, taking time to give her a comforting pat on the shoulder and some words of encouragement. 

At the beginning of our interview I was a bit intimidated by this burly man but by the 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

end of the tour I felt warmly towards him. And he seemed to warm up when he realized how appreciative I was. Also, I had confessed to walking out in frustration a couple of days before. I did this to explain why I was carrying a large X-ray envelope into his office. I’m sure this did not endear me to him at first.

The hospital is on two floors. The first floor has consulting rooms, X- ray department, surgeries, asthma treatment rooms and casting rooms (the kind where they make casts for broken arms, etc.), laboratories and pharmacy.

The second floor contains the sala de agudos (acute care ward) for keeping patients with critical illnesses under observation. Each bed has its own monitoring system. By now I was somewhat lost. There are also a men’s ward and a women’s ward where patients stay for a period of time. The obstetrics department is here, too. On this floor is an isolation section for contagious diseases. There is one wing of the hospital that is as yet unfurnished and unused. It will house more operating rooms and whatever else is needed when the money is there.

Dr. Vargas said that his staff sees approximately 148,000 patients a year, which breaks down to 400 more or less each day. We were looking into the waiting room, and I said that it looked like more than that to me. He smiled and said, "Those are family and friends." I forget that Ticos almost always take a support system with them when they have to wait in line. Some 60 per cent of the visits are urgent or serious. 40 percent  are classified as II or III in urgency. They even have a number of patients who come in with no real urgency — like a fungus condition of the toe that has been annoying them for months. And finally there are the hypochondriacs. Dr. Vargas even had a tolerant smile for them. 

Later I learned that the United States spends about 17 percent of its GDP on health care with, as we all know, many people still uninsured. In Costa Rica they spend 9 percent of their GDP on health care. Here two thirds of the people are insured by the Caja (public health insurance) and one third has private insurance. Some have both in case of a catastrophic illness.

Our tour over, Dr. Vargas picked up my X-ray. He studied it, noted the various things I had had done and told me everything looked okay.

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PAC would renegotiate free-trade treaty with U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Partido Acción Ciudadana wants Costa Rica to renegotiate a proposed free-trade treaty with the United States.

The political party, which had eight members in the Asamblea Nacional, is hoping that a victory by John Kerry in the U.S. presidential elections in November will make it easier to reopen discussions with the United States.

Epsy Campbell, the party’s leader in the assembly, outlined the discontent at a press conference 

Thursday. She said the party would not support the treaty if it arrived on the floor of the legislature the way it is.

Acción Ciudadana, the party formed three years ago by Ottón Solís, opposed opening up the nation’s monopoly insurance and telecommunication industries. Some access to Costa Rican markets is contained in the draft treaty, particularly in the area of wireless communications.

They also seek a more protectionistic policy toward agriculture. Right now only local potatoes and onions are protected in the draft treaty.

We reach a million
hits on the Internet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica posted a record in March when the newspaper’s Web pages received more than a million hits.

The exact total was 1,051,118, according to an independent statistical program at the newspaper’s Maryland server site. The program also monitored 242,156 viewings of individual Web pages.

For the month, there were 64,692 persons who spent significant time visiting two or more pages of the online newspaper. That, too, was a record. That total works out to about 3,200 persons who read each daily edition.

The newspaper debuted Aug. 15, 2001. The previous record of Internet hits was in January 2003 when 908,726 hits were logged. The March total represents a 15.6 increase in readership.

Actually, the newspaper probably received more than a million hits in January and February, too, but problems at the server, perhaps caused by several flurries of junk e-mail and viruses, put the statistical program out of operation for several days in each of the months.

The dynamic increase in readership is good news for savvy business owners and readers who use A.M. Costa Rica’s advertising services. The newspaper boasts of delivering advertising at the speed of light.  But the advertising rates are based on a far lower readership, editors said.

Full statistics are linked, as always, via a box on Page One to this location: Our Stats.

Strike in Limón means
special garbage pickup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government is taking steps to head off a garbage crisis in the Municipalidad de Limón because 198 public employees are on strike.

Two trucks operated by private contractors are on their way to the Caribbean community today. Workmen were scheduled to start collecting garbage at 5 a.m., according to Casa Presidencial.

The employees are striking because the Contraloría General de la República, the fiscal watchdog, has not approved the city’s budget and salary increase anticipated by the employees.

Ricardo Toledo, minister of the Presidencia, said the central government was acting to avoid any health crises that might be cause by an accumulation of garbage. During a previous strike, a similar stopgap effort collected 30 tons of garbage a day.

Suspect in robberies
awaited by agents

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officials were waiting Thursday evening for the surrender of a suspected leader of a gang of robbers.

The man, identified by the last name of Palma, is a former law enforcement officer with the Judicial Investigating Organization. He served for six years until he was fired for leaking information, said a spokesman for the organization.

A  lawyer for Palma contacted agents Thursday about the time that Jorge Rojas, organization director, was outlining allegations at a press conference, the spokesman said.

The lawyer promised that Palma, who was in flight, would surrender to avoid having his photo put in newspapers. The home Palma occupied in Barrio Pinto, Montes de Oca, was one target of a raid Wednesday, but he was not home.

Investigators suspect him of being the leader of a slick band of criminals who invaded compounds of apartments and condos in Sabana Oeste, Escazú and Bello Horizonte.  The gang was described as being well-trained and working with efficiency as they beat and tied up residents and took property and money.

During the raids Wednesday agents are believed to have uncovered evidence that the gang impersonated police officers to force their way into condo and apartment complexes. Several Judicial Investigating Organization shirts were found as well as plastic handcuffs.

The second raid Wednesday was in San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados, near San Sebastian. Three persons were detained as a result of the raids. Several more are still fugitives, the spokesman said.

Rojas, in his press conference, said that agents collected evidence that the gang was targeting a branch of the Banco Nacional in Tres Ríos.

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Venezuelan lawyer seeks international rights probe of Chavez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Venezuelan lawyer has asked the International Criminal Court here to investigate the government of President Hugo Chavez for alleged human rights abuses against political opponents.

Lawyer Alfredo Romero filed the claim Wednesday, saying he represents the families of more than 50 people who have been tortured, sexually abused and murdered. He said the cases of alleged abuse were for "political reasons."

The Hague-based court was created to probe 

charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity  where national courts fail to act.

Venezuela's opposition and human rights groups have criticized the Chavez government of using excessive force to block anti-government marches after a failed coup in 2002. Scores of people have been killed in clashes involving opposition protesters, Chavez supporters and Venezuelan security forces.

The opposition has accused Chavez of trying to turn Venezuela into a Cuban-style communist state. The president says he is working to improve the lives of Venezuela's poor majority.

Argentines take to streets demanding police action against crime
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — More than 100,000 Argentines marched through the downtown Thursday, demanding government action against a recent surge in violent crime. 

Many of the marchers held candles and chanted "justice" while others held up photographs of relatives they say were kidnapped and murdered. Residents across the city banged on pots and blew car horns in support. Similar demonstrations were held in other cities in Argentina. 

Juan Carlos Blumberg, whose 23-year-old son Axel was kidnapped and murdered last month, led the march. His son's murder sparked the protest, 

which was one of Argentina's largest in years.
The French news agency, AFP, says investigators are looking at the suspected involvement of police officers in the case. 

Blumberg said police must rid itself of those he calls "bad apples" and properly train and equip the other officers. He delivered a petition to members of parliament, demanding harsher sentences for violent criminals. 

Argentina has seen a rise in kidnappings, murders, rapes, and robberies. Analysts blame the violence on the country's economic problems.  Many of these crimes involve so-called express kidnappings in which victims are held for a few hours in an effort to extort money.

Joint U.S., Canadian effort breaks up gigantic ecstasy ring
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 130 persons have been arrested in a crackdown on an enormous drug trafficking ring in Canada that manufactured large quantities of ecstasy and marijuana and then sent the illegal drugs to cities around the United States, says the U.S. Justice Department.

At a news conference here Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James Comey said U.S. and Canadian law enforcement authorities had broken up the international ecstasy trafficking and money-laundering ring that imported large quantities of ecstasy into the United States and laundered more than $100 million in drug proceeds back to the organization's leadership in Canada, among other places, over the last two years.

Comey said this case is especially significant because it marks the first time that law enforcement agencies discovered a massive ecstasy operation in North America.

Dubbed "Operation Candy Box," the crackdown against the drug ring resulted in the seizure of more than 500,000 ecstasy pills, a number of handguns, and more than $6 million in currency, Comey said. "The charges allege that the 

laundering wing of this organization was able to move $5 million in cash a month," he noted. Canadian authorities added that millions of dollars worth of marijuana and equipment for growing that drug were shut down in Operation Candy Box.

U.S. officials said one outcome of Operation Candy Box's three-year investigation was the discovery that ecstasy trafficking, which had largely been controlled by Russian and Israeli gangs, now has spread to groups with ties to Southeast Asia. The two principal targets of this investigation were Ze Wai Wong, a Chinese national, and Mai Phuong Le, a Vietnamese national, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says ecstasy is sold primarily at nightclubs and bars, at underground nightclubs called "acid houses," or at all-night parties known as "raves."

Bruce Gephardt, deputy director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that the modern criminal organization is "networked" and has "no respect for jurisdictional lines."

The arrests made in Operation Candy Box, he said, "send a clear message that North American law enforcement agencies are committed to work together aggressively and pursue drug traffickers and money launders regardless of the boundaries."

Last month A.M. Costa Rica registered 1,051,118 hits.
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Soccer star Adu, just 14, ready for his pro debut
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — America's Major League Soccer season kicks off here Saturday, when D.C. United hosts the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium. But the big focus of the game will be on Freddy Adu, a 14-year-old phenom and top overall draft pick, who is making his professional Major League Soccer debut. 

The start of the MLS season has been tailored around Adu. The match is the only regular-season game scheduled for network television broadcast this season. The banner promoting the game on the home page of the official MLS Web site features Adu's picture. His team, D.C. United, has been selling tickets to the game as part of a "Freddy Four-Pack." The match is sold out.

While Freddy is just 14 years old, he projects a maturity far beyond his years. He has appeared on any number of magazine covers and television shows, has made a soft-drink commercial with soccer legend Pele, and is constantly swarmed by the media. But Freddy says he likes the attention. 

"It's fun, I enjoy it and I try to do whatever I can do to be the best player I can be and help my team win," he said. "And I know if I keep doing that and play well in the field, the media stuff will be there. After all, it is part of my job."

Some predict that Freddy Adu could change the face of American soccer. His winning smile and charisma, along with his flashy ball-handling skills could make the young man a global sports superstar. Team president Kevin Payne is sure Adu will help D.C. United.

"There is no question that Freddy is going to bring interest from areas that we might not otherwise enjoy it," he said. "Whether it is young fans or general sports fans or in some cases, people who are not even sports fans, they are intrigued by the story and are following Freddy's adventure with our team."

Freddy's life has been an adventure since he moved from Ghana to the Washington area in 1997 along with his mother and younger brother. But 

the 14-year-old, who became a citizen last year, has good memories of his birth nation.

"I am never going to forget that place, you know. I remember exactly what everything was like," he said. "I mean, it is probably a little bit different now, because, it has been, you know, six and one-half years. But I can't wait to go back. I should be going back by the end of this year to visit. I can't wait."

Though they were comfortable in Ghana, his mother Emelia believed her dreams for her sons' futures could only be achieved in the United States. When they settled in Potomac, Maryland, Mrs. Adu had to work two jobs to make ends meet. 

By the time Freddy Adu was 10, his mother was already getting calls from European clubs who had heard of his skills and were interested in signing him. Though the money would have allowed Emelia Adu to reduce her exhausting schedule, she refused to let him leave home. It was not until Freddy was 12 that he was allowed to join the U.S. Soccer Federation's developmental program.

Now Freddy is ready to make his debut and see if he can live up to the hype. The young soccer prodigy says meeting Pele was a treat, and that the Brazilian legend is a great role model. 

"I mean, the guy is the greatest player to ever play the sport and to get a chance to shoot a commercial with him and to hang out with him, hey, not everybody gets to do that," he said. "So you might as well take full advantage of it and enjoy yourself. And to see how great he was and he treated everybody with the same amount of respect and all that stuff, you can't help just want to become just like him, you know." 

Assuming he takes the field for Saturday's opener, Adu will become the youngest player for a major American team since 14-year-old Fred Chapman debuted for Philadelphia of major-league baseball's American Association in 1887. But Freddy Adu says he is not nervous, just anxious. In his words, "I have been waiting for this for a long time."

Peace Corps series wins U.S. journalism award
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A Dayton Daily News series about thousands of assaults, robberies, rapes and even murders involving Peace Corp volunteers has won a major U.S. journalism award.

The series by Russell Carollo  and Mei-Ling Hopgood, titled "Casualties of Peace," documented events that took place since 1990. The series has triggered a congressional inquiry.

An astonishing story of brutal war crimes by The Toledo, Ohio, Blade and a book on the American tax system by David Cay Johnston took the top honors in the 2003 IRE Awards, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. announced today.

The Blade team uncovered the story of an elite U.S. unit called Tiger Force that went on a seven-month rampage in Vietnam in 1967 killing hundreds of unarmed civilians. Reporters Michael Sallah, Mitch Weiss and Joe Mahr tracked down 43 former Tiger Force soldiers, many of whom are haunted by the atrocities they committed or watched.

The book by Johnston, "Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich — and Cheat Everybody Else" (Penguin Group USA), combined compelling anecdotes with exhaustive big-picture research to convey vital information about arcane tax policy in a way that can be understood by general readers. The contest judges noted Johnston's tenure as a reporter with The New York Times.

"His years of covering the intricacies of America's loophole-ridden tax system and the wealthy who take advantage of it have paid off in a book that should anger every citizen," they said.

The annual awards of IRE, a 5,000-member professional organization, recognize outstanding investigative work in 15 categories, most of them based on market or circulation size. The categories are separated into print, broadcast, online media and work that demonstrates superior use of freedom of information and open records laws.

IRE judges recognized a wide range of work that included investigations into a major nonprofit environmental organization, a decrepit and unsafe school system, the perils of overseas volunteer work, flaws in U.S. energy policy and international water policy, workplace dangers, sexual assaults at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and hotels for the homeless.

IRE's Freedom of Information Award went to a team from the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader for exposing a massive secret pardons program rife with questions and conflicts for the governor. The team included David Kranz, Stu Whitney, Terry Woster, Jon Walker and Patrick Lalley.

"The Argus-Leader's work is a sterling example of a news organization working around a state's inadequate freedom of information law to monitor the affairs of a government's executive branch," the judges said.

For a second straight year, an IRE Certificate was awarded to Phil Williams and Bryan Staples of WTVF-Nashville for investigating state government. Despite ethics reforms, the team documented continued cozy relationships between politicians and lobbyists as well as questionable spending practices by the University of Tennessee president.

Other certificate winners: 

* Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway of the Washington Post for "Big Green," a report that found sweetheart land deals for insiders, drilling for oil in sensitive habitat, and a board of directors with executives from corporations known more for causing environmental problems than curing them behind the environmental icon.

* Debbie Cenziper and Jason Grotto of The Miami Herald for "Crumbling Schools," an expose of decrepit, unsafe conditions in Miami school classroom buildings that led to the resignation of the superintendent and top building officials and state scrutiny.

* Phoebe Zerwick and Les Gura of the Winston-Salem Journal for "Murder, Race, Justice: The State vs. Darryl Hunt," the story of a man who was sent to prison for 19 years for a crime he did not commit and the racial attitudes and scientific evidence involved in the case.

* Julie Jargon of Westword, Denver, Colo., for "The War Within" about the story of sexual abuse and rape at the U.S. Air Force Academy and its honor system.

* A team including David Barstow, David Rummel, Neil Docherty, Lowell Bergman, Linden MacIntyre, Robin Stein, James Sandler, Nelli Kheyfets, Remy Weber, Jason Maloney, Lynda Baril, Louis Wiley Jr., David Fanning, Ann Derry and Lawrie Mifflin from Frontline, New York Times Television and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for "A Dangerous Business," a disturbing investigation into the McWane Corporation's business philosophy that left employees exploited, maimed and killed. The investigation also exposed how ineffective Occupational, Safety and Health Administration policies allowed the company to defy safety regulations.

* Jeff Harris, John Ferrugia, Kurt Silver, Jason Foster and Byron Grandy of KMGH-Denver for "Honor and Betrayal: Scandal at the Academy," a look at the rapes and cover ups at the U.S. Air Force Academy that helped prompt changes throughout the military.

* Donald A. Barlett and James B. Steele of Time for a series of stories about "U.S. Energy Policy," that used exhaustive research and clear, real-life examples show how America's failure to stick to a consistent energy policy and its special-interest legislation for energy firms amount to an unnecessary hidden tax on Americans.

* Andrea Bernstein and Amy Eddings of WNYC-New York Public Radio for "Handshake Hotels," an absorbing report inside the ramshackle world of New York City's "Hotels for the Homeless Program" and the lax regulations and poor communication that allowed administrators to spend $180 million a year on dangerous, dirty and derelict housing for the city's needy population.

* William Marsden, Maud Beelman, Bill Allison, Erika Hobbs, Daniel Politi, Aron Pilhofer, Andre Verloy, Laura Peterson and Samiya Edwards of the Center for Public Integrity for "The Water Barons," a sweeping, worldwide look at outbreaks of disease, unaffordable drinking water and lack of oversight as a result of water policies gone awry.

* John Frank, Jamie Dougher, Matt Hanson, Joe Rauch and Lynne Shallcross of The Daily Tar Heel for "Raising the Cap," for a six-part series examining the University of North Carolina's plans to increase enrollment of out-of-state students.

This year the judges chose again to give a special citation for international work. The citation went to Gerald Ryle and Brian Robins of The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The reporters uncovered how public property across the country was being leased to corporations, wealthy individuals and political donors at rates far below market value.

IRE, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to training and supporting investigative journalists. It is based at the Missouri School of Journalism.

A complete list of winning news organizations and journalists, as well as finalists, in each category is available HERE!

Jo Stuart
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