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These stories were published Monday, April 28, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 82
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Bankers seem to frown on vocal criticism
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You better put your complaints in writing at Banco Nacional because — if you voice them — you may be thrown out.

That’s what happened to a Costa Rican man Friday about 2 p.m. He had dared to speak loudly about the lack of activity by tellers at the bank.

Some 75 persons were in a line, and 12 teller windows awaiting. But only two tellers were working at a time when the bank should have expected a lot of activity. And one of the tellers, a young woman, was carrying on a pleasant conversation for about 10 minutes with a messenger who had finished his transactions. A higher-level manager also participated in the joking and laughing. The line did not move for a number of minutes.

That was too much for the middle-aged man who suggested that there were vagos working at the bank. That’s short for vagabundos, not so much vagabonds or tramps in the English-language sense but more like public employees who shirk their duties.

He was at the end of the line that doubled upon itself in the bank lobby at the downtown central office. Within seconds two guards pounced on him and demanded identification, sort of public relations Banco 

Nacional style.  Several other customers in the line came to the defense of the man, but their support did not matter. 

"There’s no freedom of expression here!" one said.

Finally under pressure, the man shook hands with both guards and left, his bank business undone.

Bank workers took the hint. Pretty soon there were four tellers working at the 12 windows and the line of customers started to move slowly.

Long lines are typical at government-owned banks because each transaction is completed while the customer awaits along with a lot of paperwork. For example, a signature is required to deposit cash into someone’s account.

Long-time residents tell horror stories about banks and welcomed the arrival of private banks a few years ago. Customer service is better at the private banks, but there is no guarantee that the money is insured or that checks will be accepted everywhere.

Many customers of government banks now use Internet banking or automatic teller machines, but an uncertain postal system makes some trips to the bank necessary for most Costa Ricans.

Afternoon downpours likely until Thursday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

OK, it’s official. The rainy season has arrived.

Blue skies over the Central Valley in the morning are now giving way to clouds and 
possible sprinkles by 2 p.m. followed by

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Rains cuts down road visibility
downpours through about 4 p.m.

Heavy rains still are highly localized, and one section of the valley will be drenched as other locations remain dry.

Still the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional reports officially that a bit more than a half inch of rain (14.3 mm.) fell between 7 a.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Nearly all of it was in a gully washer that hit around 3 p.m. Saturday.

The weather bureau, located in Barrio Aranjuez did not report any rain Sunday despite a second, although shorter, gully washer about 2 p.m. Sunday in much of the western part of the valley. Higher elevations continue to be cloaked in clouds.

This will be the situation for much of the week, at least through Thursday, the weather experts said. As usual, the Caribbean coast and the south Pacific coast will get more rain. 

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Police sweep downtown hotels, bars and clubs 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police swept through the section of downtown San José well known for its strip clubs, cheap hotels and bars Friday night in another attempt to clean up the capital.

Officers confiscated drugs, guns and even pornography, they said.

A report from the Ministerio de  Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said one hotel, located on Calle 2 between avenidas 6 and 8 was closed down because officers found eight doses of cocaine and 133 doses of crack cocaine. They also said they found a .25-caliber unlicensed pistol.

The drugs were in the false bottom of a garbage can, investigators said.

The raids lasted until the early hours of Saturday. Involved were officers of the Fuerza Pública, municipal inspectors and officials from the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

No suspects were found who police thought were engaged in pimping underage children, but three adults got citations because officials suspected that they were putting children on the street to beg for them.

Officers said they visited, among others, the nightclubs Flamingo, Molino Rojo, Miss Caribe and "77." In the last location they said they confiscated a compact disk with pornography on it.

Officers also visited the pensions San Martín and La Flora and the hotels Lily and La Aurora.  In the 

last location officers said they encountered 639 grams of cocaine and a 38-caliber revolver and cash which they confiscated.

In addition to the area south of Avenida 2 and west of Parque Central, officers visited the area near Parque Morazán along Avenida 3 primarily seeking underage prostitutes.

Comandante Eduardo Guzmán of the central city delegación was in charge of the operation.

Police said they had little luck finding fugitives when they checked pedestrians in the area near Parque Central. They found three persons who face administrative actions but no serious criminals.

Two held as vendors
of revisión stickers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Undercover agents of the Judicial Investigating Oganization arrested two men, 40 and 42, who are suspected of selling false revisión tecnica documents and window stickers. One man was from Curridabat and the other was from Alto de Guadalupe, investigators said.

The false documents, which show a vehicle has passed a mandatory safety inspection, cost about 35,000 colons, investigators said. That’s about $90.

In searching the home of one man, investigators said they found 300 false documents and paper with the name of Riteve, the firm doing the inspections. Agents also said they obtained a list of persons who have sought such false documents.

Menem and fellow Peronist face Argentine runoff
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Former President Carlos Menem has finished first in Sunday's presidential election, but faces a runoff next month against a fellow Peronist party rival. 

With 80 percent of the ballots tallied, Menem had 24 percent of the vote, just ahead of provincial governor Nestor Kirchner, who received about 22 percent.  The top two vote getters face off May 18 in Argentina's first-ever presidential runoff. 

Menem is known for his free-market economic policies dating back to the 1990s when he served two terms as president. Kirchner is a member of the Peronist (Justicialista) party's leftist wing and has the support of outgoing President Eduardo Duhalde. 

Authorities say voting was mostly peaceful, and 80,000 soldiers were on duty to respond to possible protests  of the country's economic crisis. 

Sunday's vote was the first presidential election since the political and economic chaos of December 2001, when the country defaulted on a multi-billion dollar debt and devalued its currency. The crisis wiped out savings, triggered street riots, forced President Fernando de la Rua from power and led to five presidents in just four weeks. 

The new president will serve a four-year term beginning May 25. He will face such tasks as restructuring Argentina's $60 billion debt, mending fences with international lenders and working to bring economic and social stability to a country where more than half of the population lives in poverty. 


 
Hearing set for Tuesday
in Shannon Martin case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A  preliminary hearing will be held Tuesday in the Juzgado Penal de Golfito for three persons suspected in the May 13, 2001, murder of Shannon Martin, a University of Kansas senior.

The 23-year-old woman, a U.S. citizen, met her death after she left a bar in the south Pacific beach community. She was working on a final undergraduate project at the time.

A woman with the last name of Cruz has been in preventative detention since her arrest Nov. 20, 2001. Two men, named Castro and Zumbado also face charges.

The case has been fraught with challenges for the prosecution. There is little direct evidence linking the two men to the case. The woman is believed to have been wearing a shirt worn by Miss Martin when she met her death.

The purpose of the hearing is to determine if enough evidence exists against each of the three to warrant a full trial.

All three persons are believed to be habitues of the center of Golfito.

Powell rejects possibility
of reprisals over Iraq

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States does not envision reprisals against hemispheric nations that opposed the war in Iraq, says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In an interview Friday with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Powell offered assurances that Canada's failure to support the United States in United Nations  deliberations on Iraq, though disappointing, will not have a lasting impact on the relationship.

"The United States and Canada have been great friends for so many years," Powell said. "Sure, we can have disagreements and issues that come along that might make an outside observer say 'oh, heavens, something has been fractured,' but there is no fracture in this relationship, and there will be no consequences for Canada."

Powell said the United States was similarly disappointed with the positions of Chile and Mexico on the Iraq war, but he did not envision lingering tensions. "With respect to Canada, with respect to Mexico, with respect to Chile, these are close friends of ours -- all three -- and we will work our way through this," Powell said.

U.S. immigration forms
will be online soon

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services soon will allow immigrants to file certain popular application forms over the Internet for the first time. Beginning May 29, the applications for green cards and employment authorization can be filed electronically, according to a press release Friday.

"The introduction of e-filing represents an important stride in our effort to deliver immigration services in a more efficient and customer-friendly way while meeting our national security objectives," said Tom Ridge, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and the parent agency of the immigration service. "These two forms are the first of many immigration applications we plan to make available for online filing in the near future."

The two forms account for approximately 30 percent of all the applications processed annually by the bureau, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Air India trial
starts in Canada

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

VANCOUVER, Canada — The trial for two men accused of bombing the  Air India Flight 182 begins here today after more than 17 years of investigation. The long and complicated trial is expected to last for at least a year.

The two men from India's Sikh religious minority, millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik and forestry worker Ajaib Singh Bagri, are each charged with killing the 329 people aboard an Air India 747 that exploded near Ireland in June 1985. Most of the victims were Canadian.

They are also charged with killing two baggage  handlers at Narita Airport near Tokyo, Japan, in a  related bombing of another Air India flight, 54  minutes earlier. Officials said both bombs were put on departing planes here in Vancouver.

The two Indian-born Canadians, who were arrested in 2000, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Mr. Bagri is also charged with the attempted murder of a local Sikh newspaper publisher in 1988. Critically wounded in that attack, the publisher, Tara Singh Hayer, was killed in another attack 10 years later. It is believed that the bombings were in retaliation for the Indian government's 1984 invasion of the Golden Temple in  Amristar, the holiest shrine for the Sikh religion.

Still to this day, the bombing is the worst single incident of aviation terrorism in history. It also has the distinction of being the biggest and the most expensive police investigation in Canada so far.

After numerous delays, the complicated trial  will begin under tight security in a specially modified courtroom. That courtroom alone cost  $5 million to renovate and the criminal investigation in this case has already cost tens of millions of U.S. dollars.

During the trial, the 17 prosecutors are expected to link two men with militant political groups that were actively campaigning for a Sikh homeland in the Indian State of Punjab. There  will be 15 defense lawyers to rebut the evidence.

A third man, Inderjit Singh Reyat, who holds dual British and Canadian citizenship, plea-bargained to a lesser charge of manslaughter in February and received a five year sentence for the 329 deaths. As the bomb maker, he was previously found guilty of manslaughter for killing the two baggage handlers. Reyat might be called to testify for the  prosecution.

The trial will also be a first for many Canadian journalists, as they will be allowed to record audio of the legal proceedings to authenticate quotes. Broadcasts of the recordings and picture taking inside the court room, however, remain illegal in  Canada. 

Man caught in raid
says he was not jailed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen caught in a marijuana raid says he was not jailed.

The man is Stanley Earl Burns, who said Friday that he was surprised when he saw a copy of a news story about the raid. That ran March 31 in A.M. Costa Rica.

The story recounted the raid in a San Antonio de Escazú location where a man was operating a marijuana sales setup, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. 

Burns said he was there to pick up his car from storage when the place he described as a farm was raided. "One person was arrested and taken away," he said. "It was determined that I was a tourist having just arrived and was not involved. The drugs found were not mine, and I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was not arrested as you reported." 

The raid occurred in the presence of the juez penal of Pavas.  A Costa Rican who has U.S. parents, Patrick William Salom Rodriguez, 46, was arrested, said the Judicial Investigating Organization at the time.

At the scene authorities found drug paraphernalia, such as bags to divide the drugs into smaller units, that indicate the selling of drugs and also scales, said the organization. 

Burns, who is a photographer in Atlanta, Ga., said he spent a month at his home in Dominical and not in jail. Although he said the drugs found were not his, the Judicial Investigating Organization, in its official report, said that they searched the belongings of Burns and encountered an ounce of marijuana in a plastic bag.
 
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Two-day D.C. session
to evaluate trade

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Policy makers and business leaders from across the Americas will convene in Washington beginning today to take stock of the Western Hemisphere's political and economic landscape, discuss concrete steps to bolster democracy and trade, and address other issues of importance to the region, according to Council of the Americas Vice President Eric Farnsworth.

The Council of the Americas is a leading business organization dedicated to promoting regional economic integration, free trade, open markets and investment, and the rule of law throughout the Western Hemisphere. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Treasury Secretary John Snow are among the prominent Bush Administration officials who will participate in the Council's 33rd Washington Conference, "Crisis and Opportunity: Realizing the Hopes of a Hemisphere," held at the U.S. Department of State through Tuesday.

Latin American leaders include Honduran President Ricardo Maduro, Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear Valenzuela, Henrique Meirelles, Brazilian Central Bank president, and Alfonso Prat Gay, his Argentine counterpart.  The visiting statesmen will join senior U.S. officials, congressional leaders, and over 200 other business leaders for the two-day event.

The Council of the Americas is deeply involved in organizing the involvement of the U.S. business community in the hemispheric free trade process. Farnsworth said that the council will make every effort to ensure that the trade talks to establish the treaty remain on schedule at the November 2003 meeting of hemispheric trade ministers in Miami, and that the hope of a hemispheric free-trade zone by 2005 is realized.

New Quito airport
gets $200 million

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp. has approved up to $200 million in financing for the construction of a new international airport in Quito, Ecuador.

In a press release, the corporation said it will provide an investment guaranty to Corporacion Quiport S.A., established in part by the U.S. company HAS Development Corp., which is affiliated with the Houston Airport System. The financing will be used for the construction of a new airport 25 kilometers outside of Quito. The location of the existing Mariscal Sucre International Airport in the center of Quito, combined with its short runways, limits both aircraft payload and revenue-generating capacity.

The corporation is a U.S. government agency that sells political risk insurance and loans to help U.S. businesses invest and compete in more than 150 emerging markets and developing nations worldwide.

Army officers seek
protection from Peru

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Peruvian government has granted asylum to two Venezuelan army officers who fear reprisals for their opposition to President Hugo Chavez's government. The men, Wismerck Martinez Medina and Gilberto Landaeta Vielma, took refuge in the Peruvian embassy in the  capital Caracas last week. 

Peru's Ministry of Foreign Relations issued a statement Sunday, saying the two retired officers would travel to Peru as soon as Venezuela approves the move.  The men have been accused of participating in a massive protest against Chavez in  October. 
 
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Cuba crackdown might lead to another big exodus 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tensions between the United States and Cuba are at their highest level in nearly a decade. The Bush administration has blasted Cuba's recent crackdown on internal dissent, while Cuba has accused the United States of meddling in its internal affairs and provoking conflict that could lead to war between the two nations. 

Some observers are wondering whether Cuba may be preparing to unleash a mass exodus of asylum-seekers into the Florida Straits.

In the past month, Cuba has sentenced scores of dissidents to prison terms of up to 28 years and executed three men who led a failed attempt to hijack a passenger ferry to the United States. 

The moves have prompted an outcry from the Bush administration, Costa Rica, human rights groups and most recently the Vatican. 

Late Friday Cuban President Fidel Castro struck a defiant tone. The Communist leader said harsh measures are required to protect the island-nation from U.S. and Cuban exile-led efforts to destabilize the country.

Castro said the arrest of several dozen mercenaries, who betrayed their homeland for privileges and money from the United States, and the capital punishment for common criminals who hijacked a boat in Havana Bay with guns and knives, were the result of a conspiracy directed by the U.S. government and the terrorist mafia in Miami. 

He said Cuban authorities bear absolutely no responsibility for the situation. He went on to accuse the United States of a "sinister" plot "to provoke a conflict."

At the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban Studies, Professor Jaime Suchlicki says no one should be surprised by Castro's actions.

"Fidel Castro has repressed the Cuban people periodically over the past 43 years. There have been periods of repression followed by periods of some tolerance, followed again by periods of repression," he said. "So this is nothing new. He does not like dissidents or people that oppose him. And no totalitarian leader accepts opposition or criticism."

Suchlicki says the Castro government most likely planned the crackdown long ago, but waited for an opportune moment to carry it out.

"It has come at a time when he [Castro] probably thought that world opinion would be more concerned with Iraq than with anything else," he said.

Cuba has complained bitterly that the United States encourages acts like the ferry hijacking by allowing all who reach U.S. soil to remain in the country, almost regardless of the means employed to get there.

The Castro government has also denounced a backlog of visa applications by Cubans wishing to emigrate legally to the United States. 

State Department officials admit that this year the United States has issued fewer than 3,000 of the 20,000 visas promised annually under a bilateral immigration accord reached in 1994. The Bush administration blames the slowdown on new, stringent requirements for issuing visas mandated by the war on terrorism. 

Dagoberto Rodriguez of Cuba's Interests Section in Washington recently accused the United States of attempting to create "crisis conditions" by fomenting and concentrating dissent on the island. Rodríguez added that his government has no choice but to do what is necessary to ensure domestic security.

"We hope that the message the U.S. government will receive from this situation is that there are no ways to impose its will on Cuba," he said.

Rodríguez says the visa slowdown could provoke a mass exodus of Cubans taking to the sea.

Such talk has not gone unnoticed in Washington, where the Bush administration sees the Cuban rhetoric as a thinly-veiled threat to open the floodgates of illegal immigration, should the United States take punitive measures against Cuba in response to the crackdown on dissidents. 

In recent months, the U.S. Coast Guard and other elements of the federal government have updated emergency plans to deal with any exodus from Cuba that may occur. 

But not everyone is worried. A spokesman for the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, Joe Garcia, says he doubts the Bush administration will allow itself to be blackmailed.

"This administration is not going to go for the bait. This administration has basically said that disorderly migration will be met with orderly repatriation," he said. "This means that he [Castro] will not be able to threaten south Florida with hundreds of thousands of Cubans."

Fallout from the surge in tensions between Havana and Washington has been swift and dramatic. Two years ago, the United States eased its longstanding economic embargo against Cuba to allow the sale of food and medicine to the island. Embargo opponents in the United States had hoped the measure would be the first step towards dismantling the embargo entirely. 

But the Cuba Policy Foundation, a prominent Washington-based group dedicated to promoting closer ties between the estranged nations, has disbanded in the wake of recent events on the island. Members of the group have expressed shock and disillusionment over repression on the island.

One of the few remaining voices urging closer ties between Washington and Havana is Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who visited Cuba last week. "It is clear to me that the best course of action now is moderation, not escalation; engagement, and not isolation," he said.

University of Miami Professor Suchlicki compares the crackdown on dissidents to purges committed by other strongmen towards the end of their dictatorial rule.

"This is a totalitarian regime at the end doing what Mao did in China, what Stalin did in the Soviet Union: eliminating opposition before the new generation takes over," he said. "So I think that this is a calculated move by Fidel."

Suchlicki says Fidel Casto is determined to protect his legacy by ensuring an eventual transfer of power to another committed Communist: his brother, Raul. To accomplish this goal, Suchlicki argues, Fidel Castro chose to silence those who would most forcefully argue for democracy upon his death, hence the imprisonment of his critics on the island. 


 
Police stoned after man is killed in Curridabat
By the A.M. Cost Rica staff

The confrontation started out as a typical Saturday night fight, but the murder and subsequent search brought a mob into the street.

By midday Sunday, a crowd sacked and set fire to a woman’s house because they thought she had harbored a murderer, and then they stoned police who arrived to restore order.

The events began to unfold about midnight in Santa Teresita de Tirrasses, a canton of Curridabat, according to a report from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Police responded to a report of a man being shot in the public right-of-way. Instead, they found a man, identified as Reiner Fernández Zúñiga, 23, dead of a knife wound to the chest. A second man, Boris Angel Días Jiménez, 18, also suffered a serious knife wound. Bystanders said that a fight had taken place but they did not know the reason.

Officers had to return by late morning to put down a disturbance they said was caused by friends of the dead man. The target of the mob was the home of a woman identified as Marta Torres Díaz, 30. She had given refuge to the main suspect in the killing, later identified as a man named Reyes.

The mob set fire to the house and sacked it to the tune of nearly a million colons ($2,500), said police. Included in the items taken from the burning home by the mob were some 400,000 colons in cash, said police. That’s about $1,000.

Officers reported that as well as capturing Reyes they were able to arrest three persons who were in the unruly mob: a 17-year-old named Matey, a man with the last names of Román Chaves, who was 26, and a woman with the last names of Gómez Portugués, who was 39 years old.

Police said they believe the fatal fight and the violence that followed stemmed from hostilities between rival street gangs.

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