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These stories were published Wednesday, May 4, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 87
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Missing man's parents using posters, 800 line
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Frustrated but not giving up, the Australian parents of Brendan Dobbins have set up a Web site and are distributing posters in Spanish.

Brian Dobbins, the missing man’s father, said private investigators have not really uncovered any new leads and the family is now searching for new information that may help to explain the disappearance. 

In addition to the Web site and posters, the senior Dobbins said the publicity campaign includes a toll-free hotline, 800Brendan, and messages about the need for information via e-mail and in the media in Costa Rica. Posters will be distributed in San José and Guanacaste,

Brendan Dobbins was participating in an exchange program at the University of Florida before visiting Costa Rica on the school’s spring break. He vanished after having been last seen walking on a beach in Tamarindo about 7 a.m. March 4.  There has been no trace.


 
National Monument is becoming protest pulpit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Monumento Nacional rapidly is becoming the national soapbox.

The monument stands in Parque Nacional and is considered hallowed ground. The statues on top show five women (the Central American states) with axes and other implements of battle driving out a cowering William Walker, the 19th century filibuster who wanted to be king of the region.

This is where heads of state lay wreaths as part of their official visit.

Carlos Avendaño, a member of the Asamblea Nacional, started the craze over Holy Week when he scrambled atop the monument to protest government enforcement of noise laws at rowdy evangelical church services.

Tuesday businessman Luis Sánchez scaled the 15-foot pedestal about 6 a.m. to protest government inaction in family matters. 

He said his 14-year-old daughter was living with and pregnant by a married man and investigators and officials have done nothing in six months.

He also urged the creation of an institute similar to the Instituto de Mujeres to help men with their problems. He made local television and left his perch about 1:30 p.m.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
 
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, May 4, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 87

 
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Riteve contract called legal,
but street protest planned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation’s fiscal watchdog has concluded that there is no legal reason to terminate the contract that set up a private firm as the nation’s only vehicle inspector.

The disclosure of the decision drew an immediate announcement by opponents that they would take to the 
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray 
Ramírez Vindas
Randall Quirós 
streets Monday, May 16, in part to oppose the inspection scheme.

The watchdog, the Contraloría General de la República, studied the agreement that now exists between the Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes and Riteve SyC, the Spanish-Costa Rican firm 
that does the inspections.

Opponents complained that technical deficiencies existed in the agreement and that the deal collided with the Costa Rican Constitution that prohibits private monopoly.

Until the vehicle inspection system went into effect three years ago, the annual 
vehicle checkups were done by private garages. The

government claimed that promoted corruption.

Randall Quirós Benavides, the minister of Transportes, said Tuesday that the vehicle inspection setup is not a monopoly. But opponents, gathered under the name of the Movimiento Cívico Nacional, are calling for his expulsion from the Abel Pacheco cabinet.

Among other points, the Contraloría concluded that because the contract has an expiration date, there is no monopoly. The expiration date is some seven years away, and the private firm has made substantial investments in inspection stations, staff and training.

Among those opposed to the measure are various organizations of taxi drivers, bus drivers and truckers. These are the same persons who managed to close down the country’s highways last year over similar complaints.

They have been hard-hit with rule changes by the ministry and a soaring price of fuel. Gasoline went up nearly 11 percent last week, the last in a series of increases generated by the world oil price. Taxi fares have not kept pace.

Plus taxi drivers have to bring their vehicles to an inspection station twice a year compared to the passenger vehicle schedule of once a year. The inspection firm has started charging for reinspections.

A recent mandate by the ministry, unexpected and inexplicable, was that all taxis must be air conditioned. Such major refitting is beyond the capacity of many owner-operators. The ministry also mandated that drivers wear uniforms, a rule that is being ignored totally.

Movimiento Civico said it would march to oppose the vehicle inspection, to reject absolutely the proposed free trade treaty with the United States, to protest the increases in fuel and the subsequent impact on the cost of basic goods and to demand a halt to corruption and political deals that favor private negotiations with public services.

The movement continues to allege that the inspection scheme is designed to favor major contributors to the campaign of President Pacheco.
 

Inflation rate higher
this year over last

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Inflation is rolling along at a pace better than 1 percent per month, according to an official accounting.

The nation may see an annual inflation rate of 14 percent or more at the end of the year.

The word from the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos Tuesday was that the inflation in the first four months of the year was 4.93 percent. That number is nearly two percentage points higher than the same period a year ago.

The inflation is not reflected in the devaluation of the colon against the U.S. dollar. That is just 2.85 percent for the four months, reflecting the programmed devaluation against the dollar itself.

The inflationary bump in the economy is encouraged by the increase in the world price of petroleum fuel.  Costa Rica imports all its fuel.

The institute said that inflation from April 2004 to the beginning of May this year was 13.66.
 

Silver coins still good
despite recall plans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Remember all those silver coins that were going out of circulation in favor of brass?

Never mind, says the Banco Central de Costa Rica. The board of directors has decided to keep the coins in circulation at their face value.

Silver coins are worth 1, 2. 5, 10 and 20 colons.  Brass coins are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colons. At the current rate of exchange, someone would need 470 1-colon coins to purchase $1.

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U.S. pulls the plug on shrimp exports from here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

Costa Rica again has been added to the list of countries prohibited from exporting wild-harvested shrimp to the U.S. market because shrimpers' practices there pose a threat to sea turtles, a State Department official says.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday that a U.S. team would revisit Costa Rica later in 2005 to determine whether the country's program has improved enough to allow the resumption of shrimp exports to the United States.

The ban on shrimp comes at a time when Costa Rica’s approval of a Central American free trade treaty appears uncertain. In fact, Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco said Tuesday he would accept an invitation to visit with U.S. President George Bush May 12 along with other trade treaty heads of state.

Costa Rica exports in excess of $200,000 a month in shrimp to the United States.

Only 15 months ago the U.S. government recertified Costa Rica and its shrimp fishing industry because the government here, in cooperation with the fishing companies, took steps to improve enforcement and compliance with fisheries laws regarding protection of sea turtles. 

The U.S. State Department had decertified Costa Rica in July, 2003. 

U.S. law  prohibits the importation of shrimp harvested in ways harmful to sea turtles unless the Department of State certifies that the harvesting nation either has a sea turtle protection program comparable to that of the United States or has a fishing environment that does not pose a threat  to sea turtles. 

Under a 1990 U.S. law, the State Department has certified 13 countries, most of them around the Caribbean, to export wild-harvested shrimp to the U.S. market if their commercial shrimp boats employ turtle-excluder devices to prevent turtles of threatened species from being captured and drowning. This same condition is imposed on U.S. shrimp boats.

Those 13 countries are Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Suriname and Venezuela.

The department also has certified countries where shrimpers' operations pose no threat to turtles. In some of those countries the shrimpers set fishing nets manually rather than mechanically or use other fishing methods not harmful to turtles. In this group are: Bahamas, China, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Oman, Peru and Sri Lanka.

In the other certified countries, the shrimp boats operate only in cold waters where the risk of taking turtles is negligible. Those countries are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom and Uruguay. Uncertified countries remain eligible to export farm-raised shrimp to the U.S. market.

The chief component of the U.S. sea turtle conservation program is a requirement that commercial shrimp boats use sea turtle excluder devices to prevent the accidental drowning of sea turtles in shrimp trawls. The devices can be 97 percent effective in excluding sea turtles from trawl nets, and have resulted in an estimated 11 percent increase per year in some endangered nesting populations in the   Gulf of México.

Even though turtles swim for long periods underwater, they can drown when trapped for long periods in nets. 


 
Gambling fanatic held in 2003 murder of wealthy aunt
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man charged with murdering his elderly aunt entered the country in June 2003 and managed to live here until Tuesday without being grabbed by the police.

The man is Russell Earl Winstead, now 40, a coal mining engineer from Kentucky.

Winstead is a gambling addict, and, fittingly, he was picked up outside a casino in the center of San José early Tuesday.

The murder that led to the arrest took place in Madisonville, Kentucky. It was that of Anne Mae Branson, then 86, Jan. 12, 2003.

Winstead was listed among the 10 most wanted fugitives of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, but that designation is largely public relations.

According to the F.B.I., Winstead went to his aunt's home in Madisonville to retrieve a check that he had written to her to repay money he previously borrowed for gambling.  Officials here said the man lost some $1 million gambling in 2002.

Winstead asked his aunt, a wealthy woman, to loan him additional money, but she refused, the F.B.I. said.

Later that day, the victim's body was found in her home, having been stabbed over 80 times. Also, Winstead’s check was missing, officials said.

Winstead was charged with first degree robbery and murder in a state arrest warrant which was issued July 15, 2003, by the Hopkins County Circuit Court in Madisonville. 

A federal arrest warrant was issued Feb. 26, 2004, by the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky, charging Winstead with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

F.B.I. photo
Russell
Earl
Winstead

a/k/a/

Jeffrey 
Dan 
Fish

The F.B.I. offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of Winstead.

The arrest Tuesday was made by the Policía Metropolitana de Proximidad of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad and the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

Officials here said Winstead entered the country using his own name June 5, 2003.  He soon began using the name of Jeffrey Dan Fish, a U.S. citizen who lives here. When he was arrested, he carried a copy of a passport issued to Fish and a fake driver’s license, officials said.

Winstead lived in Cariari de Heredia

He is being held for extradition based on an arrest warrant issued by the Tribunal Penal de Juicio del Primer Circuito de San José.


 
 
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Rumsfeld says internal force will change Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that Venezuela's leftist government and its policies will be changed by the Venezuelan people over time, without direct U.S. action. He also told a meeting here of political and business leaders from North and South America that they need to work together to fight instability and ensure continued security and prosperity. 

Rumsfeld disputed the contention of one questioner at the event, who suggested that the only way to return Venezuela to democracy is for the United States to intervene. 



Chavez says sabotage
may have cut oil flow

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez says problems with oil production in the western part of the country, including possible sabotage, have led to a drop in output of 100,000 barrels a day.

President Chavez said Tuesday officials have recovered about 100,000 barrels a day in the last three months, but are still 100,000 barrels a day below the production estimate in the budget. He said Venezuela's state-owned oil company is working to increase production.

Venezuela is one of the world's largest oil exporters and a major supplier to the United States.

"We've seen countries go through periods where they behave in a way that ultimately is seen to not be in the interests of their people, and eventually something changes that. So I don't know that I agree with the premise of your question, in fact, I'm quite sure I don't," said Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld said he used to visit Venezuela when he worked in private industry and he believes the country's people will do something to change the current situation before long.

"Down deep inside, I think they'd like to be living in a country that's respected and where they have the freedoms to do what they wish. And my guess is they will again in my lifetime," he added.

Rumsfeld told the meeting of the Council of the Americas that the biggest challenge to continued political and economic progress in Latin America is instability, which he said is fostered by drug smugglers and other criminal gangs. 

He said the countries of the region need to work together to fight that instability, or they will risk all the progress of recent decades.

"We have to help governments provide for the basic security for their citizens. A lack of security calls into question the value of freedom itself," he noted.

Rumsfeld said this is a "magic moment" for Latin America. He said the region faces considerable challenges but also has great promise, and he said the United States will continue to be involved in promoting progress, including military cooperation to fight the destabilizing elements.


 
Brazil's da Silva wants unity against Colombian drugs
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is asking neighboring countries to join forces in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime. The president's appeal follows a recent report showing the flow of drugs from Colombia, through Paraguay into Brazil is rising.

Speaking in a national radio address Monday, da Silva asked neighboring countries to work together to combat drug trafficking and organized crime. He says fighting illegal drugs and crime should be a regional effort. 

The president said other countries should get involved in the fight against illegal drugs.

Da Silva's appeal follows a recent front-page newspaper report detailing an intricate drug smuggling ring involving neighboring countries Colombia and Paraguay. 

National newspaper O Globo reported Colombian rebels are flying tons of cocaine to Paraguay each year. The drugs are then driven across the porous border into western Brazil. From there, the illegal narcotics make their way to Brazil's major cities for local distribution and for shipment to Europe and elsewhere. 

According to O Globo, leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are shipping 40-60 metric tons of cocaine annually to farms in Paraguay owned by Brazilian druglords. In exchange for drugs, the newspaper reports, the Brazilians supply the Colombian rebels with guns and other weapons.

The FARC has been fighting the Colombian government for over 40 years. 

Before his arrest in November 2004 in Paraguay, Brazilian druglord Ivan Carlos Mendes Mesquita was the main link between the FARC and the Brazilian drug trade. The U.S. government has called his capture a significant accomplishment. 


 
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