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These stories were published Wednesday, April 24, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 80
Jo Stuart
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Gigantic 3,000-watt speaker system cranks up to give the lawmakers inside a little advice. 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Well, this ought to get the deputies' attention
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

So you want to get the attention of Costa Rica’s national legislators. You could drop them an e-mail. Or perhaps you could drop by their offices and engage them in conversation promoting your favorite cause.

Or you could be like the rice producers. Park big 18-wheelers all over Avenida Principal in front of the legislative chamber. That’s eliminates traffic, but some may figure that approach is too quiet.

So Tuesday promoters of a proposed law to modernize cooperatives dropped by to lobby the lawmakers. There only were four of them, unlike the 1,500 students educators mustered for another cause last week.

But in addition to some hand-scrawled signs, the dynamic trio has a secret weapon: a gigantic, 3,000-watt speaker system mounted on a Ford pickup.

The sound generated by the rig was enough to melt concrete, somewhat akin to being up close and personal with a jet engine on takeoff.

The pickup, owned by the firm Movil 87,  parked across the street from the National Assembly about 3:15 p.m. and began to blare music. Inside, a guard confirmed, deputies were at work. After 15 minutes of rock-concert-level music, a passenger in the truck began to read a script supporting law No. 14191, a measure to modernize agricultural cooperatives.

The speech urged deputies to pass the measure as it was presented to them to bring cooperatives a more modern legal structure. There was no doubt that the deputies heard the message because the words were understandable six blocks away.

A worker for the company that had rented the sound truck to the lobbyists proudly announced that with the flick of a switch the speakers could be raised six meters (nearly 20 feet) into the air. Or at least that’s what he probably said, given the overwhelming sound from the 360-degree speaker setup.

In case you, too, wish to lobby deputies, you can contact Movil 87 at 272-0043. Make sure you speak up.

Viper Lady clone did her work in Turrialba
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A  woman police said stole a page from the book of the Viper Lady is under arrest in Turrialba. 

Investigators say the woman, like the infamous San José character who preys on tourists, drugged drinks of male acquaintances and then robbed them and sacked their hotel room or home.

The woman, identified as Yorleny Abarca Alemán is facing investigation involving at least two robberies in Turrialba. She was detained Sunday afternoon in la Pastora de Santa Cruz de Turrialba.

Two men, 27 and 28, filed similar complaints with investigators. They said a woman cozied up to each of them at a bar and somehow drugged their drink. Agents said then she took one to his hotel room where she took jewels, credit cards and money. Another time she took the other to his home where she took similar items, agents said.

Police are looking for other persons who may have been a victim of a similar scheme. The 

men now involved are not believed to be North Americans.

The Viper Lady in San José, who actually may be a man, according to local lore, targets North American tourists who probably will not be around to testify in court. She introduces herself to a tourist on the street, in a coffee shop and even on a bus. She slips the victim a drug, either in a drink or in candy, and then obtains vital financial information like PIN numbers from him in his drugged state.

The San José Viper Lady has been working the downtown area off and on for four years, and police have been unable to make an arrest. 
Local lore also suggests that the Viper Lady may actually be a group of women or men who have similar physiques and behave similarly.

Agents did not say what type of drug was used in Turrialba. But speculation in San José is that the Viper Lady uses a form of rohypnol, called the date-rape drug in North America. The drug renders the victim very prone to suggestions from other people and usually blanks out the memory of the time period. Victims can still walk somewhat and talk, at least enough to mutter a PIN number.

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New U.S. rules on money-laundering established
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration has announced new rules requiring a broader range of financial companies — including credit card firms — to adopt comprehensive anti-money laundering programs.

The U.S. Treasury Department's action Tuesday, which targets illegal drug rings and terrorist funding networks, implements provisions of the "Patriot Act" enacted by Congress following the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States.

In a news release, the Treasury Department said industries affected by the regulations include: (1) mutual funds; (2) operators of credit card systems; (3) money services businesses, such as money transfer companies and check cashers; (4) securities brokers and dealers registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission; and (5) futures commission merchants and brokers registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Those industries, with the exception of broker dealers and futures commission traders, will have 
90 days to develop anti-money laundering programs, Treasury said.

Officials were considering whether to apply anti-money laundering rules to other industries, including dealers in precious metals or jewels, pawnbrokers, travel agents and dealers in automobiles, airplanes and boats, according to the release.

A senior Treasury official told reporters that rules covering hedge funds and insurance companies would be released "in the next few weeks."

Companies will be required to train employees to detect money laundering methods, establish procedures to identify risks and opportunities for abuse, and commission independent audits, according to Treasury officials.

The department also announced that it would be sending to Congress three reports, including one that analyzes options for improving U.S. citizens' obligation to report their interests in foreign bank accounts. 

Another report addresses the difficulties faced by U.S. banks in verifying the identities of foreign nationals seeking to open accounts, and a third covers the role of the Internal Revenue Service in combating money laundering.

Death of woman was suicide, companion reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another woman died of a gunshot wound Monday night, and investigators are trying to figure out if she committed suicide or died by the hand of a companion who was with her.

The dead woman has the last name of Gallo. She was 25 years old. Investigators said the shooting took place in the Cementerio de Colorado de Abangares. Agents from Cañas investigated.

Agents said the woman was in a parked car with a companion, and the two were engaged in a discussion. The companion, a man, said the woman took a .32-caliber pistol to her body and discharged a shot into the right side of the neck. An autopsy is being conducted.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that certain inconsistencies in the statement provided by the man would be studied. 

There was no doubt that a woman died Sunday morning by the hand of a man, her estranged husband.  The shooting took place at a time when the National Assembly is considering boosting some penalties for domestic violence.

The woman who died was Agueda del Carmen Pérez, 37. The man is Angel Gutiérrez Gutiérrez, who tried to kill himself but only managed to inflict a minor wound.

The incident happened in Barrio Pitahaya, not far from the Edificio Colón, a city landmark. The woman who worked as a domestic employee for a family nearby made her usual trip to a local store to make purchases for breakfast.

The man investigators said was her estranged husband was waiting between some buildings nearby and confronted her when she started to walk back to her place of employment. The time was about 7:48 a.m., said agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

After a sharp discussion, the man who had been drinking alcohol pulled a handgun and shot the woman one time in the chest. She fell and tried to crawl to the safety of a nearby store, but the man pumped three more shots into her as she struggled on the sidewalk.

The dispute developed because the couple were having difficulties and were living apart, said police. The woman leaves six children in Nicaragua.

Transit officer faces
charge over bribe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A transit officer was grabbed by investigators Saturday in a sting operation involving a marked 10,000-colon bill. The arrest took place in downtown Quepos on the public street.

The person who filed the complaint and helped with the sting was a pirate taxi driver, or "taxista informal," as he is called in Spanish.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the taxi driver complained that the officer was demanding payment to allow him to continue to work. Pirate taxi drivers do not have the proper credentials, but a number work throughout Costa Rica. Without credentials, pirate taxi drivers are frequent targets of unethical transit officers.

A judge and a public prosecutor helped set up the sting, that took place Saturday afternoon.

The officer was identified as Jorge Arias Mora. Agents said that he was found with the marked 10,000-colon banknote in his possession. The bill is worth about $28.50.

Cocaine hurts unborn,
new U.S. study says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Fetuses exposed to cocaine in the womb become children more likely to have delayed mental development by the time they are 2 years old, according to study results printed in the April 17 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, followed the development of 415 pregnant mothers, all with high-risk factors for drug abuse. Evidence of drug use by the mothers during pregnancy showed up in 218 infants.

After birth the children were tested periodically for mental and motor development. Almost 14 percent of the cocaine-exposed infants had scores placing them in the mentally retarded range, an occurrence of developmental disability that is almost five times higher than the general population.

The researchers say that cocaine could have caused increased risk of below-average mental development because the drug impaired the neural systems of the fetal brain, or caused low oxygen levels.

Uruguay cuts ties
with Castro’s Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle says his country has broken diplomatic ties with Cuba, because of what he calls insults by Cuban President Fidel Castro. 

President Batlle made the surprise announcement Tuesday, saying the tone of the insults has left him with no choice but to sever relations that have existed since 1986. 

On Monday, Castro accused Uruguay of bowing to the United States by sponsoring a U.N. resolution that urges Cuba to improve its human rights record. The Cuban leader also compared President Batlle to the biblical figure Judas, who betrayed Jesus Christ. 

Last Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Commission narrowly approved the resolution, which stops short of condemning or expressing concern over alleged abuses on the Communist island. The mildly worded resolution does urge Cuba to put as much effort into strengthening human rights as it has into improving social policies. The document also calls on Cuba to allow a U.N. representative to visit the island to monitor Havana's compliance in improving human rights. Officials in Havana have rejected the prospect of a visit. 

Several Latin American countries backed the Uruguay-sponsored resolution, including Mexico, which is embroiled in a dispute of its own with Cuba. Havana has accused Mexico of pressuring Castro to limit his participation at a U.N. conference in Monterrey last month. Mexico has denied the allegation.

Mexico lambastes
Castro for airing tape

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Mexico has lashed out at Cuba, strongly criticizing President Fidel Castro's decision to publicly air a tape recording of a private conversation with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Reading a statement on behalf of President Fox late Monday, presidential spokesman Rodolfo Elizondo rejected Castro's statement that the tape proves Fox tried to pressure him into not attending a U.N. conference on poverty in Monterrey, Mexico, last month.

The spokesman said the recording does not support the Cuban leader's argument but, on the contrary, proves Castro had accepted the arrangements for his visit to Monterrey and at no moment rejected any of them — though he had the right.

Castro played the taped telephone conversation to international journalists Monday. He said that while he and Fox had agreed their conversation would remain private, he said Mexico's human rights vote against Cuba at the United Nations last week was "the last straw."

The Cuban leader also said he recognized his release of the tape could lead to severed diplomatic relations with Mexico. But Elizondo made clear the Mexican government will continue diplomatic relations.

President Castro did attend the Monterrey summit, but departed immediately after his luncheon speech. President Bush arrived at the conference shortly thereafter.

Cuba claims Fox pressured Castro to leave the conference early, as an effort to please the United States. Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda denied the charge at the time, as did both President Fox and President Bush.

Pope tells cardinals
sex abuse is criminal

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY — U.S. Roman Catholic cardinals meet again today in the Vatican with Pope John Paul on the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the U.S. Catholic church. 

The pope summoned the cardinals for two days of closed-door talks as the church formulates a single policy in dealing with priests accused of sexually abusing young worshippers. 

Tuesday, in his strongest words yet on the crisis, Pope John Paul called sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests a crime that has no place in the church.  He told the cardinals that sexual abuse is not only wrong by every standard, it is rightly considered a crime by society and is an appalling sin in the eyes of God. 

For the first time, he also expressed what he called his profound sense of solidarity and concern for sex abuse victims. 

At a news conference after the meeting, some of the cardinals said the pope's use of the word "crime" means he wants zero tolerance of sex abusers, believing the church can no longer shelter accused priests and must turn them over to civil authorities. 

But other cardinals said the pontiff also spoke of the power to turn away from sin and back to God, meaning that guilty priests may be able to remain in the church. 

Federal sweep hits
illegals at airports

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal authorities have arrested 94 workers at two Washington-area airports in a continuing post-Sept. 11 crackdown by U.S. law enforcement on airport security lapses. 

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the 94 detainees were picked up Tuesday on charges of fraudulently obtaining airport security badges. He said there will be zero tolerance of security breaches at U.S. airports. 

Ashcroft said the arrests at Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport are part of an ongoing investigation to ensure that people who have access to secure airport areas are trustworthy. 

The attorney general said federal prosecutors last year began an investigation of security clearance procedures at Dulles and Reagan National airports following the Sept. 11th attacks. The hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon had taken off from Dulles, Washington's main international airport located outside the capital in the state of Virginia. But U.S. officials say there was no evidence that those arrested Tuesday were connected to the Sept. 11 attacks or any other terrorist activity. They said the detainees have immigration violations. 

In a separate sweep, law enforcement officials said arrests also had been made Tuesday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a 30-minute drive northeast of Washington. As of last week, Justice Department officials say more than 250 people have been arrested at airports around the United States on charges they fraudulently obtained credentials for access to high-security airport areas. 

Officials say those arrested lied about past arrests, falsely claimed U.S. citizenship or submitted phony Social Security numbers.

Argentine cabinet
may all resign jobs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina —  Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov has resigned amid ongoing protests over the state of the economy, which is nearing financial collapse. There are reports the entire cabinet might resign as well. 

Remes stepped down Tuesday after lawmakers refused to consider his new economic plan that called for bank deposits to be converted into government bonds. The plan was designed to prevent a collapse of the banking system, which is losing millions of dollars daily. 

The government has tried to impose limits on bank withdrawals. But the restrictions have starved the economy and angered depositors, some of whom surrounded the congressional building Tuesday to protest Remes' proposal. 

The turmoil also coincides with a government-
imposed banking holiday that began Monday to stop a run on the banks and the massive flight of capital out of the country. 

For the past four years, Argentina has been mired in a recession that also has left it with $141 billion in public debt. 

Argentina has been seeking upwards of $20 billion in aid from institutions like the International Monetary Fund. The IMF withheld crucial aid to Argentina in December, saying the government had failed to control spending. 

Grenade didn’t go off

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An accountant found a military hand grenade Sunday morning inside a business located in the center of Turrialba. The man found the device when he arrived to investigate a broken window at the firm.

A bomb squad came to the scene to investigate. They reported that the grenade did not explode because it was not set up to do so.

German dies in ocean

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A German citizen drowned in a rip tide at Playa Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula Monday, according to investigators. He was identified as Jurgen Klaus Kosperguaski, 62.

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