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These stories were published Friday, April 22, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 79
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Internet drug sales bust includes arrest here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

One or more persons have been arrested here in a U.S. crackdown on an online drug-trafficking ring peddling pharmaceuticals such as steroids, narcotics and amphetamines, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a sweep conducted this week Customs and other U.S. agencies made a total of 20 arrests across eight U.S. cities and three other foreign countries, Australia, Canada, and India. 

Authorities allege that the ring was based in Philadelphia, Pa., and was headed by two Indian nationals: Brij Bhusan Bansal and Akhil Bansal, who received shipments of controlled substances from India and other countries, then repackaged them for redistribution to online buyers without the prescription required by U.S. law. The Bansal Organization doled out approximately 2.5 million doses of controlled substances, including Vicodin (hydrocodone), anabolic steroids, and amphetamines per month, according to Customs.

"This investigation dismantled a major source of illicit pharmaceuticals that posed a significant public health threat. Closing down these illegal, Internet drug pipelines is essential to protecting consumers of pharmaceuticals," said Michael J. Garcia, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities are bringing charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, with illegal financial transactions totaling more than $6 million, against those arrested.

There were not further details on those arrested. Costa Rica is a base for several telephone and Internet pharmaceutal sales organizations.

The e-traffickers used more than 200 Web sites to illicitly distribute pharmaceutical controlled substances, said officials. The law enforcement agncies involved included the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as lawyers from the Department of Justice's Criminal Division.


 
Those tiny things that go ZZZZ in the night
It is not just the escarabajos de mayo that introduce the rainy season.  One of the nice aspects of living where I do (in a third floor apartment in the city) is that I seldom see the various flying insects my friends in the outlying areas do.  It is rare that a fly will find its way into my apartment, moths only occasionally, and mosquitoes almost never. 

But at the beginning of the rainy season I, too, am visited by those escarabajos — which I call dumb bugs because they bump into things and if they land on their backs on the floor that’s it for them unless a kind human comes along and rights them or throws them out into the night.  (Time out while I take the dumb one clinging to the cushion on my couch out to the balcony.) They are just a nuisance.

The zancudos make me crazy.  Zancudo is the Latin American word for mosquito, but according to my friend Anabel, there is a special zancudo that comes about this time of the year to let you know that the rains are on their way.  The problem is, they wait until the middle of the night to do this and want to whisper (or zzzzz) in your ear on their way to biting you. 

Lately I have been waking up boxing my own ears.  Then I got a citronella candle and for two nights that worked, although burning a candle while I slept seemed a bit dangerous.  On the third night, when the candle was low, the current zancudo was undeterred and I was back to boxing my ears and then sleeping with the sheet over my head. 

 I have learned that "walking a mile in someone else’s shoes" is really hard unless "the shoe fits" (to combine a couple of metaphors).  My husband was allergic to mosquito bites. I was not.  He would wake me in the middle of the night, all lights blazing, as he searched the room for that elusive 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

mosquito that had been biting and pestering him. Maybe they go after those who are allergic to them because they didn’t bother me at the time, With ill grace, not at all understanding his "obsession," I would get up and help him look.   Now I understand.

Recently I read that researchers are discovering that birds are really smart.  Some birds have even taught themselves how to use tools.  I discovered birds were smarter than we gave them credit for just watching my little sparrows getting me to feed them.  They cinched my conviction when one day they dragged the empty seed bag into the living room from behind the door on the balcony. 

When I was studying anthropology, humans were so smug about our superiority and the gap between us and other animals, that any research that was done was based upon this assumption.  Just about everything that animals did was attributed to instinct in spite of the fact that animals isolated in cages behaved so differently from animals in their natural habitat. 

Now I really doubt that humans are the best that evolution (or God, if that is your belief) can do. And I am waiting for studies to extend that intelligence in other animals to mosquitoes.  I am also waiting for the discovery that other animals — including mosquitoes — do laugh.  They will probably stop there, not eager to learn what they are laughing about.

 
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Computer bill prohibits
wide range of material

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative commission has approved a measure that will make operators of Internet cafes place filters on their computers to protect youngsters from a wide range of inappropriate material.

The commission, the Comisión Especial de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia, outlined a litany of material that must be kept from young eyes.

The prohibited material includes pornography, obscene language, aggression and violence, construction of homemade weapons, promotion of drug use, and propaganda in favor of war.

Also prohibited is material that tends to promote racial, national or religious hatred, incites to violence for any reason but including race, color, religion, language or origin.

Additionally, the measure says that programs or information is prohibited if they undermine moral or physical integrity and the personal intimacy or families of underage youngsters.

The measure does not specify where such filters would be obtained, but the state is required to provide them free or at a low cost free of sales tax and other levies. Internet operators have said in the past that such filters are a fantasy and that no filter blocks graphics.

A maximum of 20 percent of the computers in an establishment can be free of the filters, but these must be in an area outside the view of the other computers and youngsters, said the proposal.

The Comisión de Control y Calificación de Espectáculos Públicos was designated to be in control of enforcement of this measure. This is the government agency that closed down an erotic magazine last year and required it to submit to prepublication censorship in the future.

Internet cafe operators will have a year to bring their businesses into compliance if the measure is passed by the full Asamblea Legislative where it goes now.

Penalties include fines and the suspension and loss of business licenses and health permits.

"We are looking principally that those public sites where there is Internet so children and young people don’t have access to these pages that cause great injury," said Álvaro González, a member of the commission and of the Partido Liberación Nacional.

Only public Internet access cites are specified in the law. Computers at schools, libraries and in the home will not be covered.

Computer access for middle and upper class Costa Rican children continues to increase. More than 25 percent of Costa Rican homes have personal computers.

The measure approved by the commission is similar to a decree issued a year ago by President Abel Pacheco. That decree has not been enforced.

Four men interviewed
and released on coast

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

Four men in a car were detained near Nosara Wednesday afternoon but officials let them go because there was no evidence the men were the bandits who have plagued the area since October.

Erick Obando, head of the Fuerza Pública in Nicoya said police questioned the four.

José Maleaño of the Nicoya office of the Judicial Investigating Organization, said the men were brought to police attention by a resident who saw the car with four men and then with just one.

A gang of three bandits has been responsible for perhaps more than 20 roadway stickups in the area between Sámara and Nosara on the west Pacific coast.

The resident got suspicious because he thought that the three passengers might have left the car to conduct a holdup. The crew of a milk truck faced holdup men Wednesday about 200 meters west of the Garza River. that was about 11:45 a.m.

Obando and Maleaño are working together on the case. The bandits are believed to be residents or at least have local contacts who help them locate motorists with large amounts of cash, like delivery truck drivers.

The situation has residents worried because of the negative impact on local lifestyle and tourism.

10 face drug charges
after Heredia sweep

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A law enforcement operation detained 10 persons Wednesday night and Thursday morning in Parque los Angeles in Heredia.

The arrests were made by the Judicial Investigating Organization, the Fuerza Pública and representatives of the Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutorial arm.

Agents said those arrested had been videotaped selling crack and other illegal substances in the popular park in the center of town.

María Fullmen Salazar, vice minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said officers were returning the park to the use of the public by taking away drug dealers.

Reinaldo González, regional director of the Fuerza Pública in Heredia, identified one of the suspects by the last name of Carvajal Mena and said he has been sought on trafficking charges by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

New volunteers for Peace Corps

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 17 new Peace Corps volunteers will be sworn in today at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Escazú.

The new volunteers will work with the Dirección Nacional de Desarrollo de la Comunidad in Isla Venado, Curubandé de Liberia, Nandayure, Pozas de Nicoya, Ostional, Las Delicias de Los Chiles, Birmania de Upala, Guatuso, Pacuarito, Suretka, Bline de Matina, La Palma de Puerto Jiménez, El Sauce de Turrialba, El Rosario, Saavegre and Colina de Pérez Zeledón.

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The places where you can find a gaggle of Gringos
One morning, I had coffee and nostalgia on my patio with two old friends, Tom Hughes and Marty Epstein. For about a decade, we had morning coffee and/or breakfast together several times a week in a waterfront café in San Rafael, California. Six or seven of us sat at a round table and traded fishing exaggerations, local gossip and argued politics. 

We hungtogether, as modern jargon describes our actions. Tom and Marty come to Costa Rica two or three times a year, separately, for two weeks to two months at a time.  They both start and end their trips at our de facto B & B, with mid-portions in Tamarindo and Golfito respectively.  Together, we came up with 16 places around the country where Gringos do or used to hang. All the hangouts serve food, though none are included solely for dining excellence.

Banana Bay is a restaurant, bar and marina in Golfito. Sailors and fishermen hang there for reasonably priced good food that is mostly American with some Tico dishes. Captain Bruce manages the whole operation and can see to everyone’s nautical needs.

Barba Roja is only a few doors north of Si Como No, the very popular resort hotel between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. The restaurant fills on the merits of good food, attractive daily specials and large servings, but after dinner, the bar crowd goes on for hours.

Big Dogs is actually a chain of sports bars that attracts a goodly gathering for weekday lunches even when no sports are on the myriad tubes. They all serve the same menu at the same prices: Cesar salads with grilled or Cajun chicken (¢ 2,375), chili poppers with meat, refritos and salsa (¢ 2,025), chicken quesadillas with sour cream (¢ 2,700), cheese and bacon potato skins (¢ 2,700), club sandwich (¢ 3,100), Santa Fe chicken sandwich (¢ 2,995), hot dog (¢ 1,600), grilled ham and cheese sandwich (¢ 1,800), Big Dog wrap (¢ 2,375), Buffalo wings (¢ 2,150), quesadilla supreme (¢ 3,175), 4 mini-burgers (¢ 2,150), chicken fingers ( ¢ 2,800), fried shrimp (¢ 3,500), quarter pound cheeseburgers (¢ 2,700), up to ¢ 3,100 with bacon or jalapenos, chicken kabobs (¢ 2,700), fajitas (¢ 4,000) and all three: chicken quesadilla, chili popper and buffalo wings (¢ 5,900). (The current conversion rate of the colon against the dollar is 470 to 1)

Café de Artista up the road from Rolex Plaza in Escazu is a lingering locale for mostly older Gringos eating breakfast or brunch particularly on weekends. After lunch there is little action. The breakfasts are good. The lunches are decent.

Clarita’s Bar in Jacó is the next best thing to Santa Ana’s Rock & Roll Pollo, according to some regulars who split their time between the valley and the beach. Clarita has a similar menu.

Club Colonial is the number one casino, sports bar, bar and restaurant in San José. It supplies bocas and drinks to gamblers.

Gil’s is the daytime name for Tamarindo’s Gecko Restaurant, and Gil is the friendly owner whose charisma brings in the Gringos.

Mac’s American Bar is another sports bar with pool tables. Typical bar food plus nachos are the fare. It seems to be less sports bar than hangout for its Sabana Sur neighborhood and expats all over the valley.

News Café can be entered from the pedestrian mall on Avenida Central and Calle 7 or from inside the entrance of Hotel Presidente. American men on their way to or 

Dr. Lenny Karpman

On 
the 
food
we eat

 

from fishing sojourns sit together overlooking the street scene or sit with their new female companions 
evenings and mornings. Watching both sides watch each other can be very entertaining. The breakfast buffet is adequate. Lunch and dinner are hearty and not overpriced for a hotel restaurant. 

Nogui’s Sunset Café serves three quality meals per day at reasonable prices with a view of the beach in Tamarindo. It attracts Gringos from sunrise well past dinner including business people and real estate buyers, agents and sellers. 

The Pub in Escazu is a happening little place with a large bar and with a large selection of comfort and bar food. Daily specials always change, but for ¢ 2,500 count on a large tasty platter of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, barbecued beef plate, chicken plus trimmings or, on Fridays, great fish and chips made from dorado (mahi-mahi) in a beer batter. 

Add Tex Mex, spring rolls (¢ 400), ceviche (¢ 1,100), eight Buffalo wings (¢ 2,100), eight mozzarella sticks (¢ 1,750), sausage and sauerkraut sandwich with steak fries (¢ 1,750), Philly cheese steaks sandwich with fries (¢ 2,300) and a boca platter of three potato skins, six cheese sticks, four pub wings, four jalapeno poppers and veggies (¢ 4,800) and all appetites are sated. 

The Sunday dinner menu is formidable. Caroline, the daytime hostess is a charmer. When you head up the hill in Escazú, the Pub is a small box of a building on the right with parking behind about 25 yards past the point where the road turns sharply to the right.

Restaurante Ceibolito in the Hotel El Gran Ceibo in Golfito attracts Gringos because of the fine food prepared by Fernando, who was a cruise ship chef and the relaxed atmosphere. As you approach Golfito from the mountains, Ceibolito is the first place on the left side of the road.

Rioasis on Jaco’s main street is where the young surfers eat tacos and pizza, shoot pool, throw darts, talk waves and hang at night.

Rock n Roll Pollo started having live music in the style of its name the week after Easter from 4 to 8 pm Sundays in its Santa Ana digs. Spacious, open and clad in cane, it features a generous menu of comfort food including meatloaf and mashed potatoes with a salad (¢ 2,150), filet mignon (¢ 4,250), surf and turf (¢ 5,450), Cesar salad (¢ 1,850), regular pizza with four options (¢ 2,950), coffeewood roast chicken quarter with coleslaw and tortillas (¢ 950), barbecue rib and chicken plates, BBQ pork sandwich, burgers, BLT, much more, and among the desserts, hot apple pie or brownies with ice cream (¢ 850). Pool, TVs and an active bar explain the popularity.


 
Banco Elca creditors pick representative in liquidation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco Elca depositors and creditors got together Thursday and picked a champion they hope will get most of their money.

The purpose of the meeting was to pick an individual to represent the interests of the depositors on a three-person board of liquidation, called Junta Liquidadora.

In an election in which votes were casts by individuals with voting bonuses for amounts of money owed by the bank, a man identified as Vincez Schmack gained the seat. Francisco Golfin was named alternate. Registration for voting and the vote itself was conducted manually. Many persons were at the meeting from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The official name of the financial institution is Corporación Elca, S.A. The central office was in Sabana Este between Calle 38 and Calle 40 on Avenida 4. 

The bank was popular with and promoted itself to expats and persons seeking to move here, including those who sought rentista residency and had to post $60,000 in a financial institution.

The Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras took over the bank June 29 because government inspectors said the institution lacked solvency. The agency also cited unspecified anomalies.

There have been repeated attempts to buy out the bank, but all have failed. Liquidation means that the three-person board will sell off the assets of the bank and distribute the proceeds to depositors.

The big question was what percentage of their deposits will be returned, but that question was not answered Thursday.

Bank president Carlos Alberto Alvarado Moya is facing criminal action. He is believed to still be in preventative detention.

Lawyer Allan Salazar, who was at the meeting, said that more than half of the 237 depositors there appeared to be North Americans. Many were old, and the meeting organizers had many guards and three ambulances standing by. Some depositors came in wheelchairs. The meeting was at a school gymnasium in west San José.

Based on calculations used in establishing voting rights, some $17 million in deposits were represented at the meeting. Other depositors arrived late and could not enter, said Salazar.

The liquidation board will accept legal papers for four months through which depositors can establish their identity and press their claims.

Another source said that Elca has assets that equal about 90 percent of its liabilities, but only about half of the assets, mortgages and loans, are current. The other half are in varying states of arrears or non-payment.

A meeting of stockholders in the company will take place today to pick a representative from that group to serve on the liquidation board. A third individual will be named by the Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras. 

Civilian members of the panel will collect a fee equal to 5 percent of the assets recovered, Salazar said.


 
In case you missed it:
A.M. Costa Rica, April 5, 2005
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!


 
Latin economic forecast by U.N. agency very positive
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The United Nations is forecasting relatively positive economic news in 2005 for Latin America and the Caribbean, after the region enjoyed a banner year in 2004.

In a statement Wednesday, the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said economic growth in the region is expected to be at about 4.4 percent, as compared to 2004, when growth was 5.8 percent, the region's highest rate since 1980.

The commission forecast that the region's best economies in 2005 will be in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela, with growth in those countries at 6 percent or more.

The commission forecast growth rates of 4 percent for Brazil, 3.7 percent for Mexico and Central America, and about 4 percent for the Caribbean and the nations of the Andean region: Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.

The commission made its forecast in a new report, "Latin America and the Caribbean: Projections 2005." 

The commission said lower growth in 2005 in Latin America and the Caribbean reflects a slowdown in the 

world economy and more moderate growth in several nations, such as Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela, that experienced strong recoveries in 2004.

The region's rate of inflation will remain within ranges set in 2004, at about 7 percent. However, some countries will see a slight rise in inflation, due to higher fees for regulated services and international prices for food and oil.

Fiscal policy in 2004 in Latin America and the Caribbean was characterized by improvements in public finance in several countries. In 2005, expenditures should remain under control, while revenues are forecast to rise slightly, said the commission.

High indebtedness observed in some countries, however, will make their growth vulnerable to an increase in interest rates in the United States.

The U.S. dollar depreciation against the euro and the yen, apparent in 2004, is expected to continue in 2005, with "important consequences" for the region, since it will give "additional impetus to several countries' efforts to diversify their export destinations," the commision said, adding that the U.S. dollar depreciation will help make Latin America and the Caribbean an attractive destination for tourists from Asia and Europe.


 
U.S. backing rule of law in Ecuadorian political crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Thursday called on Ecuadoreans to reject violence and respect the rule of law in that country's political turmoil. U.S. officials are in touch with leaders in Quito, though the State Department says the Organization of American States has the lead role in crisis diplomacy. 

The ouster of Ecuador's former President Lucio Gutiérrez Wednesday after a vote by Congress marked the third time that an Ecuadorean president has been forced from office in crisis circumstances in eight years.

Officials here, while not labeling the change in Quito illegal, say the objective of diplomacy by the United States and other Hemisphere countries is to help bring about the "re-institutionalization" of Ecuadorean politics while avoiding violence.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius Thursday for a meeting, appealed for calm and respect for constitutional procedures in Ecuador.

The comments were echoed here by State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli, who stressed the United States' close friendship with Ecuador and its desire to work with regional partners to "help Ecuador work its way through" its political impasse.

"We think it's important that in doing so, a couple of principles be followed," he said. "One, that violence be rejected. Number two that the rule of law be respected, and that the principles of Ecuador's constitution and the Inter-American Democratic Charter be followed."

Ereli said U.S. recognition of Ecuador's new president Alfredo Palacio, the country's former vice president who assumed office Thursday, was not in question and that relations with Ecuador are uninterrupted.

Permanent ambassadors of the 34-nation Organization of American States regional grouping met on the Ecuadorean crisis at its Washington headquarters late Wednesday and again Thursday.

Ecuador's delegate defended the removal of former President Gutierrez as a constitutional act, but the OAS Permanent Council demanded a further explanation of the ouster by Friday.

The OAS approved the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001 which would sanction or suspend countries in which there is an interruption of the democratic order.

Officials here say the "fluid" situation in Ecuador will be a major issue in Secretary of State Rice's Latin American trip next week. She is due to visit Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador.


 
Leading Mexican mayor has his bail posted by political opponents
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MÉXICO CITY, México — Prosecutors have filed charges against México City Mayor Andres Manuel López Obrador but say bail has been paid so the mayor will not have to go to jail.

Officials with Mexico's attorney general’s office said late Wednesday that bail of about $180 was posted on the mayor's behalf by allies of President Vicente Fox. 

Observers believe the action was taken to prevent 

López Obrador from portraying himself as a martyr for his cause.

The charges against López Obrador stem from his alleged failure to obey a court order to stop construction of a road on private land in 2001. The mayor denies any wrongdoing and has said the charges have been fabricated by his political opponents. 

López Obrador, who is the country's most popular politician, has announced his bid for the presidency. However, if convicted, he could not run.


 
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