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These stories were published Tuesday, May 7, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 89
Jo Stuart
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Bands of children back on streets in San José
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bands of young thieves, called "chapulines" in Spanish, have reappeared on the streets of San José, mostly in the downtown area and mostly at night.

The groups of children number upwards of 30 or more and seem to be directed by adults. Some of the youngsters appears to be only 8 or 9 years old.

The youngsters, mostly homeless children, will use their numbers to steal, to roll unwary passersby and to practice aggressive begging. The Spanish word means "grasshopper" and refers to the way the youngsters move in roving bands like the crop-eating insect.

A group about 10:30 p.m. Sunday on the pedestrian boulevard confronted about 30 policemen, and officers said they were unlikely to take much action because the youngsters were protected by the law. 

This is the first sighting in more than a year of the roving bands. The last attacks by youngsters was on Avenida 2 about 14 months ago. Then about 15 to 20 youngsters, all dirty and badly dressed, got the better of two intoxicated tourists and took money. The group at that time were directed by an equally badly dressed man and woman who shouted instructions.

A popular museum

It’s called El Museo de Cultura Popular, and it is a place in Santa Lucia de Barva in Heredia where you can easily walk back more than 100 years and see how life was on a late 18th century coffee plantation. 

See story, click HERE
Shortly before the first round of presidential elections, social agencies declared the city clear of street children. Some bureaucratic problems with funding had been resolved, and some centers for children had reopened.

The arrival of the street children menace coincides with the end of high tourist season. Not all street children are chapulines. Some prefer a more solitary life or crack cocaine and petty crime.

The inability of the police to take action has some observers in fear of extra-official efforts by vigilantes. This has happened in other Central American countries where murder squads, some probably composed of off-duty policemen, routinely torture and kill youngsters.

Casa Alianza reported Monday that in April some 53 boys and men younger than 23 years of age were assassinated in Honduras, the worst month for such deaths since the child advocacy organization began to keep records.

The organization suggested that the situation was ironic that the deaths took place even as the leaders of many countries are prepared to meet in New York to discuss the rights of children in a special United Nations session.

Last week Casa Alianza said that in Nicaragua an anonymous caller threatened to start murdering street children and Casa Alianza staff after the press reported on Casa Alianza's efforts to prosecute policemen who illegally detained street children. The caller or his family obviously had been a victim of street crime.

Because hundreds of children and youth have been murdered in Guatemala and Honduras over the past several years by police, unidentified individuals and groups in a so-called effort of "social cleansing," Casa Alianza said it is extremely concerned that even the threat of initiating such killings in Nicaragua should be taken very seriously.

As for the situation in Costa Rica, "Groups of kids will continue to appear in San Jose until society and the authorities decide to invest adequately in children and the social problems that cause the kids to move around in gangs instead of being with their families," said Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza.

"Education is supposedly free, yet many kids cannot afford books, uniform, etc. Parents, too, have to be held responsible. Yet if you are a single mother and have four or five children that too is very difficult."

Harris said that 51 percent of children are now born to single mothers in Costa Rica. "Street children, child prostitution and gangs are merely indications of the larger social problem of family breakdown," he said in a response to questions asked by A.M. Costa Rica.

In addition, he said that there is at least one psychopath or serial killer free in Costa Rica who is responsible for the murder of two street girls — Yvette, 14, and Jacqueline, 17, —  some 18 months ago.

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Rock steps lead to outdoor oven

A.M. Costa Rica photos
From this veranda, one can see the valley

Vivian Solís Espinoza, tries out old iron and kettle.

An old coffee maker, a 'sock,' has a great view.

The grounds are full of interesting plants.

Take a trip back 100 years or so
to a hidden museum in the hills

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At the end of a little side street in Santa Lucia de Barva in Heredia, the late 19th century still is alive. The adobe family home of one of Costa Rica’s presidents has been converted into a hands-on museum, and visitors can marvel of the simplicity of life on a rural coffee plantation.

The Museo de Cultura Popular, part of the Universidad Nacional of Heredia is centered around the farm house. It is here that the program of museum management operates under the direction of the university’s School of Sociology.
The museum, created in 1994, has restored the home built from 1885 to1887 by the parents of former President Alfredo González Flores. Historians know him as the reformist president who introduced direct taxation during his term in office from 1914 to 1917. That’s one reason he was deposed by the only military coup the country had between 1902 and 1948.
Politics notwithstanding, the family could pick a homesite. The dwelling sits on a bluff overlooking Santa Lucia de Barva, and a wide porch wraps around three sides of the structure. Nearby are a few small buildings, including an outhouse because the family did not have indoor bathrooms.

Inside the dwelling, the musuem staff has gathered a number of utensils and furniture typical of the period. The decore is spartan, to say the least, and cooking was done on a cast iron stove fueled with wood or an outside domed oven of the type that has been in use for thousands of years.

Vivian Solís Espinoza, a graduate student working at the museum, said that one artifact belonging to the González Flores family remains. A faded photograph of the extended family lined up in Sunday best at the early part of the 20th century.

Ms. Solís is among the small staff that hosts visitors and she speaks fluently about the way adobe buildings were constructed in Costa Rica at the time. The builders used canes nailed to uprights to provide the outline of a wall. 

Then mud was stuffed inside the cane latice. Eventually, the wall got a coating of more adobe material and then lime-base paint for a bright white finish. 

The Spanish word for the mud or adobe wall is "bahareque." Workshops at the museum show the various steps 19th century builders would have used to construct the house.

Workshops are a large part of what the staff at the museum does. During the week many groups come from colleges and high schools to participate in the hands-on efforts. Traditional food is one of the workshops, as is the manufacture of toys in the style of the 19th century.

The museum also has space for meetings and gatherings of up to 80 persons. Visitors do not have to use the outhouse, as several modern buildings anchor the complex, which is surrounded by an adobe wall.

The vegetation also is planned to reproduce what might be found in the late 19th century. An orange tree drops fruit right off the veranda of the home. Plus there are other ornamental and medicinal plants on display.

For more information, the musuem Web site is at: 


Santa Lucia de Barva is not far from the province center of Heredia and about 30 minutes from San José by motor vehicle. Buses are available, although anyone but a confirmed hiker will need a taxi to carry him from the bus stop to the museum. 

Heavy rains trap
tourists on coast

By  the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists found themselves trapped on the Caribbean coast over the weekend when heavy rains flooded areas and fractured infrastructure.

Tourists reaching San José Monday by bus said that public transportation was halted Sunday along the coast due to the heavy rains.  Hotels in Limón and Puerto Viejo were more than full because those who had planned to leave could not.

The heavy rains exacted a toll all the way to the Panama border. The Comisión Nacional de Emergencia issued a red alert for the area, and thousands of person were reported forced out of their homes by rising water.

Tourists said that bus travel was resumed Monday but plenty of sections of road to San José were under water.

Limón, Sarapiquí and Siquirres all had problems and bridges were damaged by flooding in Turrialba and east of San Carlos over the Río Zarcas.

The bad weather may have been responsible for bringing down a light plane Sunday that crashed into the ocean near the coast. The two occupants were treated and then put into custody when rescuers found the small plane was carrying 300 kilos (660 pounds) of cocaine. The men were Colombian, and the flight is believed to have originated there.

Men’s rights group 
to try to dump law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asociación de Padres de Familia Separado de Costa Rica is growing. The organization has only been in existence a month and a week and its regular weekly meeting drew about 34 persons Monday night.

This is the group that formed to fight for the rights of men who had lost custody of their children in Costa Rica. The meeting was held in Al Tribal Restaurant in Sabana Sur.

Monday much discussion centered on a proposed law that would require police to jail men when their spouse complained of domestic violence. A recurring theme of the group is that some women lie about being attacked and use the existing domestic violence laws to force spouses from their homes when no violence actually has been committed.

The group Monday heard that representatives will be meeting with three of the major political factions in the National Assembly in an effort to get the proposed law thrown out. Emmanuel Abarca, organization president, said that members already had met with persons from the Partido Libertario and believed that they had obtained support.

Two women and two girls were among those who attended the meeting. Others there were lawyers, journalists for Spanish language newspapers, a former employee of the Judicial Investigating Organization and even a policeman concealing his uniform under a light jacket. Abarca said each of the individuals had had a bad experience with Costa Rica’s family laws.

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Yes, you at the dull computer job:

(p.s. This is all you get)

Political killing
shocks Netherlands

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch cabinet is set to hold a crisis meeting today after the assassination of far-right politician Pim Fortuyn. The government is also considering postponing general elections set for May 15.

Dutch police have arrested a suspect in the assassination of Fortuyn. Police say the suspect is a Dutch man between 30 and 35 years old, but they do not know his identity or his motives.

Fortuyn, known for his anti-immigration rhetoric and openly homosexual lifestyle, was gunned down Monday outside a radio station in Hilversum after giving an interview. During the interview, the politician spoke about receiving death threats, but said he would "live until he was 87." Shortly afterward, he was shot six times in the head, neck and chest by a lone gunman.

The 54-year-old former academic's fledgling party, "Lijst Fortuyn," won a majority of seats in local elections in his home city of Rotterdam in March, surprising the Dutch political establishment. The party was expected to make major gains in next week's national elections, with polls predicting it would capture around 15 percent of the vote.

The controversial politician called for Dutch borders to be shut to immigrants, and called Islam "a backward civilization." Fortuyn had said it was his destiny to become the Netherland's first openly gay prime minister.

Dutch politicians across the political spectrum have expressed shock at the murder and called off campaigning. Netherlands Prime Minister Wim Kok appealed for calm, and called the killing a tragedy for Fortuyn's loved ones and for Dutch democracy.

Riot police were called in late Monday to disperse hundreds of angry protesters here. Some of the demonstrators blamed the media for "demonizing" Fortuyn.

Cuba called threat
with biological arms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A top U.S. official is accusing Cuba of having a limited biological weapons program and says Havana may be transferring technology to nations hostile to the United States. 

Undersecretary of State John Bolton Monday urged Cuba to stop the transfer of biological weapons expertise to what he called rogue states. 

Bolton, the Bush Administration's top arms-control official, did not identify which states Cuba may be helping, but he noted that Cuban President Fidel Castro visited Syria, Libya and Iran last year. The U.S. government considers those nations to be state sponsors of terrorism. 

Bolton says that even though Cuba is also included in that list, the threat to the United States from Havana is often underplayed.  There has been no immediate reaction from the Cuban government to Mr. Bolton's accusations. 

Powell tells Latins
to step up reforms

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Latin American governments to further implement democratic reforms so the region and its people can prosper. 

Powell Monday said that many governments in the region have failed to completely enact reforms to attract investment needed for their economies to grow. 

Powell told a business group here that without reforms of tax laws, pensions, regulatory systems and the judiciary, investors will ignore Latin America. 

Saying many people in the region are losing faith in their leaders, Powell cited a recent survey that found a decline in support for democracy in 16 of 17 Latin American countries polled. 

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