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These stories were published Monday, April 5, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 67
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The faithful wait patiently for their palm fronds to be blessed.

Palm Sunday kicks off
Holy Week activities

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With palm leaves, sandals and colorful costumes, the faithful in Desamparados Sunday reenacted the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the first step toward his passion and death.

The morning was cold by Costa Rican standards, but that didn’t keep religious Costa Ricans from attending a Palm Sunday Mass. In Spanish, the day is called Domingo de Ramos.

Many were awakened earlier about 4:40 a.m. by a magnitude 3 earthquake that hit in nearby Alajuellita and rattled houses.

The ceremony in Desamparados was similar to many that took place all over the country because this Sunday was the opening  of the Holy Week or Semana Santa. All Costa Rica had similar ceremonies in which the palms were blessed.

In Christian theology, Christ riding on a donkey was welcomed as a hero by the residents of Jerusalem in sharp contract to the mood of the crowd that demanded his crucifixion five days later.

In Desamparados Sunday the donkey was a small horse and Christ was a statue.

Each year every church has a multitude of events to mark Holy Week and Easter Sunday next week. Processions, Masses and special services fill up the week.

Even many of those estimated 1.5 million Costa Ricans who head for vacation spots devote some time to religious observances. And some of the most colorful processions can be found in the smaller towns on Good Friday or Holy Saturday.

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
The little beast named Cariñoso helps the people by carrying the image of Nuestro Señor del Triunfo. The name translates to ‘Lovey.’


Children seems to have the most fun dressing as First Century Hebrews. They include Marianea Vazquesz and David Gomez.


 
Sundown today will mark the start of Jewish Passover
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For Costa Rica’s estimated 20,000 Jews, sundown tonight begins the eight-day celebration of Passover, marking the exodus of the Jews from Egypt during the time of Rameses II.

The event is recorded in the biblical Book of Exodus which tells of the efforts of Moses to 

free his people and the 10 plagues God inflictedon the Egyptians to win freedom for the Jews.

The 10th plague was the death of the firstborn son, and Jews were instructed by Moses to mark their door with the blood of the lamb so that the plague would not invade their homes.
Typically, Jews celebrate Passover with lavish meals. 

 
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Holiday death toll
already up to three

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Semana Santa holiday already has resulted in three highway deaths, half the number killed last year during the whole holiday.

And immigration officials are fighting a wave of illegal immigrants at the Peñas Blancas border crossing with Nicaragua.

But traffic seemed to be flowing well throughout most of the country Sunday, as many Costa Ricans began their week-long holiday.

The first fatality was Arturo Gómez Díaz, 20. He died about 6 a.m. Saturday in La Unión de Cartago when his car left the road, rolled over and hit a utility pole.

In San José, Estela Alvarado, 29 tried to cross the Autopista General Cañas just east of the intersection with the Circumvalación about 12:30 p.m. with the goal of taking her children to Parque La Sabana. She was struck by a motorcycle and then rolled over by a truck.

In Ciudad Neily, also Saturday, Morales Vargas, 94, died from injuries suffered being hit by a vehicle.

The Dirección General de Migración reported over the weekend that 652 illegal immigrants had been grabbed trying to avoid entry controls.

Some 108 were caught in the country around the Peñas Blancas crossing on Friday, and some 544 more were caught Saturday. At least six of these were legal residents of Costa Rica who simply wanted to avoid paying the fees for crossing the border, according to immigration officials.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública reported that a satellite hookup has been set up between Peñas Blancas and San José so that officers at the border can access the criminal records maintained in San José.

This will give officers at the border the same access to information that an officer in San José would have, including arrest records and records of individuals and their dwelling places, aliases, identification marks and similar.

Not all the action was taking place in the north. Fuerza Pública officers said they arrested three illegal Colombians who tried to avoid border control at the Panamá crossing at Paso Canoas. The individuals were arrested after a hectic 10-minute chase through mountainous terrain, officers said.

Vehicle inspections at the Peñas Blancas crossing continued to pay off for police.  About 4 p.m. Sunday anti-drug officers found an apparently abandoned truck nearby. The vehicle contained 188 kilos of cocaine, some 414 pounds. Officers said the driver appeared to have fled when faced with a rigorous inspection of the truck.

Marco Badilla, director general of the immigration service, will be visiting the Peñas Blanca border operation today.

Four suspects held
in Banco Elka robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen stuck up the Heredia branch of Banco Elka Friday afternoon and then led police on a wild chase that ended in the arrests of four suspects and a crash by a patrol car.

The alarm came in just after 3 p.m. according to the Fuerza Pública.  A short time later, in the vicinity of San Antonio de Belén a police patrol spotted two motorcycles carrying two men each. This fit the description of the bank robbers, so a chase ensued. The motorcycles and police sped through roads of San Antonio de Belén, Ciruelas, and San Rafael de Alajuela. 

Police officer Henry Calvo Vargas suffered head and leg injuries when his vehicle crashed headon into another car. The other driver was unhurt.

Other officers managed to capture the four motorcyclists. Banco Elka has not said how much money was taken.

Officers said informally that they failed to find evidence of the heist on the arrested men, and the Judicial Investigating Organization has taken up the case.

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Powell to visit Haiti today as Aristide investigated
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell plans to visit Haiti Monday, the first visit to the island nation by a top U.S. official since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was driven from power in February.

A State Department spokesman announced the trip Friday, during Powel's visit to Brussels for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting. 

Aristide, who is now living in Jamaica, has repeatedly claimed that the United States and 
France forced him from power. He also has filed a

law suit against the French government over the matter. Both nations deny the charge.

Aristide was flown out of Haiti to Africa Feb. 29, following a three-week insurgency by armed rebels who steadily advanced across the impoverished nation.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are leaking the claim that federal prosecutors are starting an investigation of Aristide for alleged involvement in narcotics trafficking while he was president. Officials told the Miami Herald that Aristide and his wife have $285 million stashed away in offshore accounts.

Brazil is shy with its uranium enrichment plant
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. newspaper The Washington Post reports Brazil has refused to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine parts of a facility for enriching uranium being built near Rio de Janeiro.

The newspaper quotes diplomats as saying inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency  have found "significant portions" of the site shielded during recent visits.

It says new walls are obstructing views and some equipment is covered. The paper quotes a diplomat as saying Brazil is trying to protect its "technological breakthroughs." 

The newspaper says Brazil maintains the facility in Resende, is legal under international treaties that allow nuclear programs for peaceful uses, but the atomic energy agency wants to ensure that Brazil is not making weapons-grade material.

Brazil's science and technology minister, Roberto Amaral, clashed with the agency after he announced last year that Brazil planned to enrich uranium for use as fuel in nuclear plants.

The agency wanted Brazil to sign an agreement to allow spot inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Brazil has the world's sixth-largest uranium reserves, but sends the material abroad to be enriched for use in its nuclear plants.

Canada's Martin plans meeting with Bush soon
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

OTTAWA, Canada — The nation’s new prime minister says he will soon hold talks with President George Bush during his first official visit to the United States.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said Friday that although no date has been set, he will meet with Bush as early as the end of this month.

The two will most likely discuss terrorism, border 

security, and beef trade issues, affected by so-called "mad cow disease."

In late December, the United States announced its first case of the disease, and later revealed the cow came from a herd born in Canada. After the discovery, more than 30 countries took action to ban U.S. beef imports, including top buyer Japan.

Mad cow disease is commonly spread through cattle feed containing parts from infected animals. Humans contract it by eating contaminated meat.


 
Farmers caught in the crossfire die in Colombian firefight
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Seven farmers have been killed after getting caught in the crossfire between leftist rebels and rightist paramilitary members in the central province of Caldas, officials reported.

Provincial Governor Emilio Echeverry said Saturday that the fighting, in the municipality of Samana, involves the rebel Revolutionary Armed 

Forces of Colombia and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Echeverry also told Colombia's RCN radio that the fighting has been going on for several days and that 1,000 people have been forced off their properties.

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war that  leaves more than 3,000 people dead each year. 

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More reader comments on the U.S. Embassy here
EDITOR'S NOTE: Last week we asked readers to critique the U.S. Embassy here. We got lots of letters and published many Thursday. Here are some more that arrived later.

Embassy complaints
not exaggerated

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

"I have had dealings with the Russian, Panamanian and Colombian embassies here in Costa Rica and everyone of them was pleasant, reasonable prices for the services performed and done with courtesy. The embassy staff here in Costa Rica are about as courteous as a U.S. policeman." — a quote from a reader’s letter Thursday.

After reading all the letters on our embassy, the litany of complaints do not appear exaggerated. I am married to a Costa Rican national for 22 years, and the problems of rudeness, incompetence, and governmental price gouging have been unaddressed for years. 

As a retired criminal investigator, I know a little about the arrogance of power and the mentality of those having or seeking power over others. When one considers that the CIA does much of its grooming and recruiting from U.S. State Department embassies, and many staff are actually CIA operatives, operatives in training, or wannabe agents, then the problems outlined become easier to understand. Then take into account the "problem personnel" who receive unhappy assignments to desk jobs or unwanted locations where they are out of 'the action."

The resident ambassador, [a political appointee] is at best an impotent figurehead playing out his/her "Lord Jim" fantasies of omnipotence, while largely ineffective against a secretive and entrenched bureaucracy of career civil servants. Given these realities it is doubtful that the ambassador is viewed by many subordinates as a guiding light, or an empowered administrator — which makes improvements unlikely, now or ever. 

Name withheld 
Thanks for your very gutsy, good work!!!

Reader has questions
about embassy policy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re: the short & seemingly classified auction at the U.S. Embassy, here are the things I find short in their regard:

1. When we first arrived in CR we were told, "If you have legal problems, don't expect help from the U.S. Embassy.

2. Why are there so many people of Spanish descent working in the US Embassy? They seem to outnumber the North Americans working there.

3. Wouldn't it be an excellent idea if the US Embassy notified A.M. Costa Rica of their next auction? Also stating the minimum deposit, in order to bid.

Please don't use my name as we have to renew our visas in this year.

Name Withheld
This reader suggests
a political solution

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

"In Canada, Canadians are quite tired of the U.S. ambassador in Ottawa telling them how to run their affairs. From what I see in the local press, Costa Ricans feel the same way about their man from Washington." — a quote from a reader’s letter Thursday.

Don't worry, we Americans are tired of the rhetoric too and working on a solution! His name is JOHN KERRY! www.johnkerry.com

"Things did not go so well last time around, and I was contacted by a New York Time reporter who informed me that my Florida absentee ballot was one of those that was not counted. Could it be that I voted for the wrong candidate? I wonder." — a quote from a reader’s letter Thursday.

Once again, cast YOUR VOTE! The same problem won't happen again. It will be a landslide, and not for "Jorge Guerro."

A. Brooks 
wannabe Tica, Americana, politico USA

EDITOR'S NOTE: In straw ballots during the last U.S. presidential election, the U.S. Embassy staff voted overwhelmingly Democratic.

Publisher finds service
to be point of pride

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As a legal resident of Costa Rica for more than 20 years (my last trip to the U.S. was in 1985), I have had infrequent dealings with the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. While the lines and waiting time in some offices are somewhat longer than you might find in the U.S., the service and courtesy I have been afforded is heads above the norm of most Costa Rica Government offices and institutions that any business here must deal with.

I have always been treated with courtesy and efficiency by embassy personnel, and as a U.S. citizen I take pride in the services provided by my government to U.S. citizens living in other nations.

Mr. Brennan and the Public Affairs office has been particularly helpful, returning calls promptly and acting efficiently on all requests.

Jerry Ruhlow 
publisher 
Costa Rica Outdoors Magazine 
Santa Ana


EDITOR'S NOTE: Peter Brennan, head of the Public Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy here, is being transferred to Managua, Nicaragua, according to a newspaper there. Other staff at the embassy are being rotated to other locations, too.


 
United Nations will tackle 'aggressive driving'
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Not having enough to do with wars, massacres and terrorism, the United Nations is launching a Road Safety Week in Europe, Central Asia and North America. The campaign is aimed at curbing the soaring rates of road fatalities and injuries, largely due to aggressive driving behavior.

According to U.N. figures, deaths from terrorist attacks pale in comparison to the number of people killed and injured in road accidents every year. The United Nations estimates that road accidents globally kill 1.2 million people and injure 50 million more every year.

It puts the number of deaths in the European and North American region at 150,000 and the number of injured at 5.5 million.

One U.N. transport expert, Jose Capel Ferrer, said 90 percent of automobile accidents occur because drivers do not respect the rules of the road. In particular, he said, aggressive driving is a common cause of many serious accidents.

"Aggressive driving includes speeding — particularly in the presence of pedestrians or cyclists; close following; aggressive flashing or even double-parking," he said. "So there are many 

forms of aggressive driving. Aggressive driving may also be creating aggressive driving. For example, using the mobile phone and therefore driving too slowly, or driving under the influence of alcohol." 

Ferrer said aggressive driving is not the same as road rage but may lead to road rage.

The U.N. statistics also indicate that about 80 percent of the global traffic death toll is in developing countries. It estimates the cost of accidents is equal to between 1 and 2 percent of a country's gross domestic product.

Besides improving driving behavior, Ferrer cited several other U.N. recommendations for bettering road safety. "For example, for long tunnels to include a system of traffic management, to have emergency exits at a maximum distance of 500 meters in tunnels," he suggested. "Vehicles, of course, must be manufactured in accordance with a series of regulations that ensure the highest possible level of safety, active and passive, and that they are internationally harmonized."

Ferrer said there are many ways of preventing and discouraging aggressive driving. These include increased police controls, heavy traffic fines and punishments, and the re-education of drivers. 

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