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These stories were published Tuesday, April 26, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 81
Jo Stuart
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Internet drug arrest involved company here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A German national with Costa Rican ties was the person from here arrested in a massive U.S. sweep against Internet sales of prescription drugs.

An indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York identified the woman as Corinna Mehrer, who with others operated the Costa Rican business International Pharmacy.Com S.A., which employed about 40 people here.

Ms. Mehrer also was involved with others in operating about 50 Internet Web sites, said the indictment. The Web sites offered to sell controlled pharmaceuticals such as Ritalin, Vicodin, Darvon, Xanax and Valium, said the indictment.

Some of the Web sites were,,, and, said the indictment.

The U.S. government alleges that although purchasers filled out a questionnaire about their health and need for the drugs, the paperwork never was presented to a physician.

The orders were processed by persons in the New York area, but 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 per month, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The drugs were obtained outside the United States and shipped to Queens, N.Y., where they were repackaged, said the indictment.

Ms. Mehrer is charged with running a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to import illegal drugs, importation of drugs, conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs and distribution of illegal drugs. In addition she faces a money-laundering count in the indictment and a charge of misbranding drugs.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said the arrest was made in New York and not in Costa Rica. Additional arrests are possible because some names were left out of the copy of the indictment provided by the office to newspeople.

A domain registration lookup of suggests that the Web site is located in San José, Costa Rica, and some of the other Web site registration listings give postal boxes that are associated with Florida-based courier services that provide delivery service here. The site appears to still be active.

Anti-government marchers attack Nicaraguan President Bolaños

Environmental guarantees going to assembly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Environmentalists are inviting supporters to assembly Wednesday afternoon at the Asamblea Legislative to support President Abel Pacheco’s environmental guarantees.

The Asociación Preservacionista de Flora y Fauna Silvestre said the measure would be before the full assembly that day and said the initiative was important to create constitutional protection for the environment.

For others the amendments to the Costa Rican Constitution are controversial. Pacheco proposed the measures Sept. 14, 2002, and the measure has been in and out of legislative hearings since. The actual working of the measure as it has 

been reported out of committee to the full assembly could not be learned Monday night.

The request for support came from Luis Diego Marín Schumacher, the organization’s president, who said the measure would be discussed.

The state guarantees, defends and preserves the rights to an ecologically sustainable environment, according to the president’s proposal.  The major elements of the guarantee are that every citizen has standing to bring a court case in the defense of natural resources  and to seek reparations for any damage. 

In addition, the proposals would instruct the courts that in an environment case, any doubt must be resolved in favor of nature.


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This is vaccination week
in Western Hemisphere

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Some 35 nations are participating in a vaccination blitz in the Western Hemisphere with the goal of immunizing 44 million individuals — young and old — against disease.

The Pan American Health Organization is coordinating Vaccination Week in the Americas, with support from regional governments and other nongovernmental organizations dedicated to improving health care.

"Our aim is simple," said the health organization director, Dr. Mirta Roses, at a press briefing Monday. "Let us work together to finish the unfinished business of immunization and to make certain that no child suffers or dies from any disease preventable by immunization anywhere in the Americas."

Nations of the Americas resolved 20 years ago to eradicate polio, succeeding in their region in 1991. Roses said that same energy must be tapped today because diphtheria, rubella and other preventable diseases still occur in the region.

The activities that run through Saturday are focused on strengthening regular vaccination programs and working to identify populations that have had little previous access to immunizations because of geographic remoteness or social or economic disenfranchisement.

This is the third consecutive year in which health officials throughout the Americas have joined in a weeklong vaccination effort; leaders of the effort said the participation level among governments in 2005 is unprecedented.

"All the continent for this 2005 [campaign] is really united this week, working for the same purpose," said Dr. Roses.

Nations are setting their own priorities in the campaign, however. Argentina aims to vaccinate 3.5 million children, while Brazil is hoping to provide 12 million people over age 60 with influenza protection. Brazil also will be trying to reach 200,000 people in indigenous communities, an often-overlooked population. The United States and Mexico are working together to promote vaccination programs on the long border they share.

Another priority during Vaccination Week in the Americas is the elimination of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome — a lifelong condition that can impair the health of babies whose mothers contracted the virus during pregnancy. Paraguay plans to vaccinate 3.5 million people between ages 5 and 39 against rubella.

The United States announced in March that it had eliminated the disease, and this was seen as an important first step toward hemispheric eradication of the viral disease, also known as German measles.

Mexico has made similar progress, according to its vice secretary of health. "Congenital rubella syndrome has almost been out of our surveillance system in Mexico," said Dr. Roberto Tapia Conger, also present at the briefing.

Throughout the region, 1.5 million women of childbearing age will be immunized during the week, according to background information compiled by the health organization.

Anti-drug session begins
today in Santo Domingo

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Officials here will host a meeting starting today of Western Hemisphere anti-drug officials to examine how money laundering is used for financing drug trafficking and international crime networks.

They also will discuss treatment therapies for drug offenders and an aerial spraying program for coca and poppy control in Colombia.

Other topics at the meeting, being held here include drug demand-reduction initiatives and human-rights concerns in the context of the fight against illegal drugs.

The event will also discuss a hemisphere-wide program that measures the progress of each country in the region in terms of fighting illegal drugs. Officials at the meeting are expected to approve reports evaluating each country's anti-drug performance during 2003 and 2004.

The national evaluations are based on each nation's responses to a biannual questionnaire, which asks countries to report data on drug consumption, trafficking, production, seizures, arrests, money laundering, chemical diversion and corruption. Responses to the questionnaires are provided to a group of technical experts, who analyze each nation's responses and produce a summary report with recommendations. The experts do not participate in evaluations of their own countries.

The meeting here is being held under the auspices of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organization of American States. 

The commission published a report March 31 on the aerial spraying program for coca and poppy control in Colombia. That report, requested by the governments of the United States, Colombia and the United Kingdom, assessed the human health and environmental effects of the herbicide known as glyphosate, used for the control of illicit crops in Colombia.

The 121-page report concluded that the risks to humans and human health from the use of glyphosate were minimal. The report also said that the risk of direct effects of glyphosate in terrestrial wildlife such as mammals and birds were judged to be negligible, as were those to insects such as bees. 

The U.S. government says an exhaustive body of scientific literature based on independent research conducted over a number of years has also found that the glyphosate used in the aerial spraying program in Colombia does not pose a health risk to humans.

Man dies defending woman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chilvary does not pay in Dulce Nombre de Coronado. Officials said that a man died Sunday night when he tried to defend a 50-year-old woman who was being threatened by her boyfriend. 

The dead man has the last name of Rodríguez, and he was 39-years-old. A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said he got in an argument with a 62-year-old man who shot him fatally in the throat.

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Gregory Meeks and Maurice Hinchey, both New York Democrats; Daniel Burton, an Indiana Republica; Rolando Laclé, president of the Comisión Permanente de Relaciones Internacionales in the Asamblea Legislativa; and James Moran, a Virginia Democrat. Hinchey is being assisted by a legislative aide.
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Costa Rica gets trade views from visiting congressmen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of U.S. congressmen, divided as they may be, had some basic facts for Costa Ricans Monday:

• The text of the free trade treaty is a done deal. It will either be approved or rejected as it is.

• Whether Costa Rica accepts the agreement or does not is not a big deal for the United States but a very big deal for Costa Rica.

• The U.S. Congress is divided itself on the measure, but there is a pretty good chance that the treaty will be passed.

• If Costa Rica wants to continue as the financial and trade center of Central America, it has to approve the agreement.

• There are some U.S. congressmen who also worry about labor laws and the poor.

"We care about Costa Rica’s future, and much more is to be gained by Costa Rica than the United States," said U.S. Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, adding a few minutes later: "If you don’t participate, Costa Rica will be on the sidelines."

He was speaking to reporters after the 10-member delegation met with Costa Rican lawmakers at the Asamblea Legislativa. The bulk of the delegation favors the treaty. The rest are using the two-day visit for fact-finding.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Burton, an Indiana Republican, favors the measure even though he voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and México. He also voted against U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization. The agreement "obviously is not perfect," he said, predicting that the U.S. Congress will pass the measure in the next few months.

Burton explained that he has changed his mind on trade treaties because he said the Western Hemisphere has to remain competitive with China and the new European Union.

Burton also explained to Costa Rican reporters that the treaty will not be changed in the U.S. Congress. The vote is either up or down. The measure comes to the 

Congress under the special fast-track trade route that does not permit piecemeal voting.

Ottón Solís, the leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana has been in Washington, D.C., lobbying for changes, particularly as they affect social issues. The pact already has been accepted by the governments involved, noted Burton. Only legislative ratification remains in the U.S. and Costa Rica.

A congressman who is uncertain is Gregory Meeks, a native of New York’s impoverished East Harlem section. He is a Democrat who is concerned about the effect of the treaty on the plight of the poor. If lawmakers could be sure that social concerns were addressed in the treaty, the measure would pass the U.S. Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, he said. Others noted that labor law and some of the other items that generate social concerns are covered or can be covered by national laws.

Burton was asked about President Abel Pacheco’s reluctance to send the measure to the assembly for a vote. Burton correctly noted that Pacheco was holding up the measure until lawmakers passed a proposed fiscal plan and tax package. However, Burton said he would encourage Pacheco respectfully to separate the two measures and send the free trade bill to the assembly for a vote.

The congressmen visited with Pacheco in the afternoon.

The giant U.S. trade deficit is one of the driving forces behind the push for free trade. Support and opposition is product specific. U.S. cotton growers love the treaty because the trade bill favors clothing made with their cotton. U.S. sugar beet growers oppose the measure because more Central American sugar is allowed.

In Costa Rica some agricultural producers favor the measure and others oppose it, depending on what they produce. Burton warned that if the Central American free trade treaty were defeated here, Costa Rica should not count on existing trade preferences to send its products to the United States. Those preferences would not be renewed, Burton said.

Those congressmen who favor the measure also see it as self-defense for the United States in that economic growth in Latin America will cut down on illegal immigration and enhance U.S. security, as well as favor democratic growth in Central America.

Supporters of embattled mayor march in México City
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Hundreds of thousands of protesters have marched in support of Mexico City's mayor, who could be banned from the upcoming presidential election because of a legal charge against him. 

The demonstrators marched down the city's main thoroughfares to the main plaza, known as the Zocalo, in complete silence. But they broke into cheers when the embattled mayor appeared on a stage and pledged to fight for the interests of the nation's poor. 

Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who public opinion polls say is the top contender for next year's presidential election in Mexico, enjoys broad support from poor sectors of society, all across Mexico. But his critics see him as a populist firebrand who could follow the path of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who has developed close ties with Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro and alienated the Venezuelan business class. 

Author Elena Poniatowska, was one of the celebrities who participated in the march. She expressed concern 

that the political dispute between the government of President Vicente Fox and López Obrador could destabilize the country. "I think the situation is very dangerous. It's very polarized and people will start hating each other. Not only society people, for instance the rich classes. It's a very difficult moment for Mexico," she said.

Mayor López Obrador is accused of defying a court order to stop construction of a road to a private hospital. Prosecutors want him to appear before a judge to answer these accusations. They allege that city government failed for 11 months to comply with a court order to vacate the contested land. 

City authorities finally did obey the court order, but it has still not been determined whether Mayor López Obrador was personally involved in any of the decision-making processes. López Obrador denies any wrongdoing. Government officials say they have pursued the case against the popular mayor in an effort to show that no one is above the law. If indicted and convicted, López Obrador would be prohibited from being a candidate for the leftwing Party of Democratic Revolution in next year's presidential race. 

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!

Mortars, stones injure his son
Street rioters attack President Bolaños in Nicaragua
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
(posted at 1:30 p.m.)

Protesters attacked President Enrique Bolaños and his staff Tuesday with stones, water bags and homemade mortars when the chief executive left Casa Presidencial in an effort to speak to those in the street demonstration.

The president was not hurt but his son, also Enrique Bolaños, was hospitalized.

The protestors were in a massive march ostensibly against a rise in bus fares, but the crisis has become one against the current administration. Officials in the Bolaños administration say the street protests are encouraged by the Frente Sandinista opposition.

Protesters Tuesday told Bolaños to leave office.

The attack took place not far from Casa Presidencial. 

Earlier story below.


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Four police officers were injured and more than 40 persons were arrested in efforts to contain violence in student protests over increases in bus fares here. More seems to be likely for today with the announcement that a massive march would take place.

Some observers said that the Nicaraguan president might declare a state of emergency. The protests are at least encouraged by his political opponents.

Amongst the injured was Gabriel Sanchez, a 28-year-old police officer who lost his eye when a homemade mortar shell exploded close to his face, and Francisco Solorzano, a member of the police anti-riot squad who was hit in the chest by a "morterazo" blast. 

Although the protests were generally limited to public university transportation centers and the area in front of the Managua city hall, transportation in the entire capital was chaotic as police diverted vehicles from the center of Managua. No protests were seen outside of Managua. In tourist center Granada, it was business as usual.

A hard line against the protestors, which was announced over the weekend by the newly appointed Managua chief of police, Carlos Bendana, was evident as police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets against the protestors. Unconfirmed stories by Sandinista controlled Radio YA, claimed that the police officers were using AK-47 military rifles and shotguns against the crowds. Radio YA is the unofficial voice of the Frente Sandinista.

During the protests of the past week the students used homemade mortars against the police and civilians without law enforcement retaliation. In the fighting Monday, a much more determined effort was made by special police anti-riot squads and students were forced to retreat to the campuses of the universities in the face of tear gas and constant arrests on the streets. 

Early in the day four buses and three government vehicles were stopped and burned by the rioters using molotov cocktails and other incendiary devices. Public transportation virtually ground to a halt in afternoon hours as bus and taxi services retreated from the streets for fear of retribution by the students. 

On the North Highway, close to the Sandino International Airport, students at UNAG University forced 30,000 Zona Franca textile employees to find alternative means of transport as public transportation was stopped and many workers were forced to return

home on foot. Television stations ran live coverage of the protests in the late afternoon as reporters dodged stones and rubber bullets to provide images of the riots. 

In the live reports, announcers pleaded with the students to remain calm and stop the violence after a reporter was injured during the coverage.

Late in the evening students and various union workers represented by the Frente National de Trabajadores, a Sandinista-dominated labor organization announced the massive march to the National Assembly and the Casa Presidencial. 

It is to begin at the cluster of universities located adjacent to the MetroCentro shopping Mall. No police permit had been applied for by last night to authorize the march. 

At 3 p.m. the Nicaraguan government called an emergency press conference to address the growing crisis. In the conference, Lindolfo Monjarrez, presidential press secretary, directly blamed the Frente Sandinista and in particular its leader, Daniel Ortega, for instigating the violence. 

Monjarrez also blamed Dionisio Marenco, the newly elected Sandinista mayor of Managua for providing material aid and assistance to the protestors, up to and including the use of city vehicles and equipment. Earlier in the day Marenco and the Nicaraguan Association of Mayors (AMUNIC) had called for the resignation of President Enrique Bolaños for his alleged incapacity in resolving the riots in Managua and his lack of concern for the students and citizens of Managua. 

Surprisingly, Bolaños did not appear at the press conference, and no personal comments have been made by the Nicaraguan president. It is an open topic of discussion that the government is contemplating a declaration of national emergency and a call for military intervention by the Nicaraguan army to stop the crisis. 

In the event a state of emergency is called by Bolaños, it is widely speculated that he would attempt to dissolve or restrict the authority of the legislative and judicial branches of the government. The Supreme Court and the National Assembly have been in constant opposition to the Bolaños government for the last two years. 

For example, the National Assembly recently enacted reforms to the Nicaraguan Constitution restricting presidential power and cutting by 50 per cent all of the salaries of the Presidency, including the personal presidential staff and the salary of the sitting president, as well as the salaries of all of the cabinet ministers appointed by Bolaños.

Jo Stuart
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