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(506) 223-1327                Published Friday, May 11, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 93              E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Hostages released, gunman held at Russian Embassy
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas,
Arnoldo Cob Mora and Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(5:25 p.m.)
A more-than-four-hour hostage situation at the Russian Federation Embassy in San José came to an end quietly Friday afternoon when the lone gunman surrendered to police.

The scene was in Barrio Escalante in the northeast part of the capital. Nine persons had been involved, but an account from a negotiator said there only was one true hostage, and he was not an embassy employee.

The gunman, identified as Roman Bogdawynt by Casa Presidencial, is a refugee from the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan. He came to the embassy with his mother. Negotiator Manuel Salas Mora said that the incident was triggered when Bogdawynt got in an argument with someone else standing in a line at the embassy. The Bogdawynt family had leveled an accusation of fraud against the man, and it was this individual who ended up as a hostage, Salas said.

Hundreds of law officers encircled the embassy grounds. Bogdawynt, dressed in a yellow rain slicker with the hood up, was led away by four policemen. A unit of the nation's tactical squad, the Unidad Especial de Apollo, had entered the structure about 4:30 p.m., seemingly at the request of a negotiator.

Bogdawynt was taken to a court in Goicoechea, a northern suburb.

The drama started at 12:30 p.m. The  gunman's mother, also political refugees, stayed at the scene. The mother stood outside under an umbrella and cried.

The scene was bathed from time to time with moderate rain.

The gunman was identified and described by a friend, Artur Mitiniane, himself a Russian citizen. Bogdawynt was said to be a fan of computer.

The entire family was said to be here as political asylum seekers. They came in 2005. Costa Rica has an open-door policy for such refugees. They live in San Antonio de Belén.
Russian embassy two
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Police gather in front of the main entrance of the Russian Embassy.

The Russian ambassador, Valery Dmitrievich Nikolayenko, was never a hostage but stayed within the embassy during the critical period, said Casa Presidencial.  Rodrigo Arias, minister of the Presidencia, took personal charge of the situation because of the diplomatic nature of the case. Negotiations were channeled through a Russian translator.

There was some confusion as to how many persons really were hostages. Manuel Salas Mora, a man who served as a negotiator, told reporters that only one person was being held by the gunman. In addition, the embassy complex contains housing for employees, and some persons could be seen looking out windows on upper floors. They were not hostages but simply persons confined to their quarters by the incident.

Eight of the persons inside and initially considered hostages were connected with the embassy. They were described a five men and three women. Two were identified later as Ekaterina Casheva and Robert Ribkeev, a cultural attaché. All eight were embassy employees. Ribkeev described himself as a hostage when he left the embassy shortly before Bogdawynt surrendered.

The ninth person, believed to be the person who was the subject of Bogdawynt's anger was not identified further.

Honduran man convicted in murder of Robert Cohen
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(5:40 p.m.)
A three-judge court gave a Honduran citizen 27 years in prison Friday after convicting him in the murder of Robert Cohen, a U.S. citizen who was abducted and tortured to death.

The same panel said there was not sufficient proof to convict a second suspect, a woman named Anabel Chacón Sánchez. The panel said that her participation in the crime was not clear.

Sentenced was  Luis Alonso Douglas Mejía. The
panel gave him 25 years for the murder and two years for depriving Cohen of his liberty.

Cohen, 64 at the time of his death, was a developer from Granada, Nicaragua, who was found at the Río Chirripó. The prosecution said that he was abducted, beaten and murdered as a lesson for losing $7 million in a business trasaction. Cohen was grabbed  March 6, 2005, when he left an Escazú hotel to exercise about 7 a.m.

At the time of his death he was involved in a major development in Grenada.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 11, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 93

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Sept. 23 is picked as tentative date for treaty referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones has set Sunday, Sept. 23, as the date for a referendum on the free trade treaty with the United States.

The date is tentative because the treaty is being reviewed by the Sala IV for constitutional flaws.

The tribunal also approved a 1.4 billion-colon budget for the voting. That is about $2.8 million.

The tribunal has to find voting locations, train poll workers, distribute ballots and other election material, manage the free transport of voters, then collect and count the votes.

In addition, the tribunal will supervise voting by special populations, like prison inmates and residents of senior citizen homes. The tribunal listed all the duties in detail in a press release by way of justifying the election budget.

Unlike the presidential election, results should be known late Sept. 23. Even earlier election officials should know if 30 or 40 percent of the electorate votes. The percentage has not yet been set, but the referendum only will be valid with a substantial turnout.

Voters will simply mark yes or no on the one-question ballot.

The referendum is the first under a new law that described how to put into practice the right of referendum found in the Costa Rican Constitution. Free trade treaty opponents sought the referendum as a stalling tactic because under the law they would have had nine months to collect signatures.
This would bring the matter close to the treaty ratification deadline early next year.

Instead, President Óscar Arias Sánchez used another section of the referendum law the day after the tribunal gave permission for signature collection. He issued a decree that was ratified by the Asamblea Legislativa.

Even then free trade opponents said they should be allowed to collect signatures because they filed their request first. The tribunal ruled that Arias was first in presenting all the requirements needed to hold a referendum.

Another duty of the tribunal will be to monitor the donations to the various campaigns by individuals and companies. There are financial limits in the law, and the law is clear that foreigners cannot participate in the campaigns or donate funds.

The pro-treaty group of business people and large exporters is generally seen as having deep pockets.

The referendum law says that public employees cannot take sides in such a referendum, but Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, the president's brother and minister of the Presidencia, has asked the tribunal to further define those rules. Presumably he wants to make sure public employees can work for the treaty during their free time.

Costa Rica has accidentally become a philosophical battle ground between those who support capitalistic world commerce typified by the United States, and those who seek a socialistic course, typified by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. A group controlled by Chávez agreed to back opponents.

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20-year-olds face claims
of being downtown bandits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said Thursday that they have collared two men who had a thriving business mugging pedestrians in the downtown, in Tibás and the Parque la Merced, among other locations.

The men face 19 separate allegations of armed robbery, but agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization said many more crimes might be unknown because victims did not file complaints.

The two men were identified as Ronald Barboza Rodríguez and Marco Antonio Granados Leiva, both 20.

Agents said the two men worked seven days a week  from 6 p.m. to midnight. Firearms and knives were used in the assaults to which they must answer, they said. In addition, the pair faces an allegation of using the candado chino, a headlock that quickly renders its victim unconscious, agents said.

Both men were detained in the vicinity of Avenida 8 about 7:20 a.m. Agents had been watching them for some time.

The complaints and assistance from victims were crucial in making the arrests, agents said. Both men have previous judicial involvement for drugs and robberies, agents said.

Investigators said they believe the two men were part of a larger band which has members still at large. They asked that victims who have not filed complaints come forward to provide information.

The usual booty from victims included cell phones, wallets, purses, watches and jewelry, said agents. But sometimes the downtown robbers would insist that the victim surrender  shoes.

The area around Avenida 1 between Calle 7 and 11 has been plagued with robbers. Sometimes they pretend to be waiting on a bus line until a tourist walks by. This happens even shortly after dark. Other areas where robberies took place were in the vicinity of Plaza de la Democracia and various bus stops.

Various gangs of robbers have found the area easy pickings for years, The candado chino, if applied properly, cuts off blood flow to the brain. Several North Americans have had to submit to lengthy therapy after such a mugging. Most victims, however, are Costa Rican.

The men are two of 70 robbery suspects arrested by the Judicial investigating organization during the last two months, the agency said Thursday. The area was generating some 80 robbery complaints a month, so agents made an extra effort to target potential criminals, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Robbery suspect gets 10 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A court panel handed down a 10-year sentence Thursday against a man prosecutors said was part of a robbery gang working the area west of San José, a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial said.

He was identified by the last names of Alfaro Castro. He faced charges of robbery and falsification and use of fake documents.

Among his nine victims, the court found, was the wife and children of a Dutch diplomat. Bandits invaded their home in 2005.

Hospital patient murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen walked right into Hospital Tony Facio in Limón early Thursday, and one of their number went to the second floor and assassinated a man who was recovering from earlier bullet wounds.

The dead man was identified as Orlando Clarck Heens, 26, a man with a criminal record.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization said two gunmen held a hospital guard and others at bay about 3 a.m. while the third shot the patient. The victim was being investigated for participating in a shootout with police officers in Limón. He was hospitalized  Monday with two bullet wounds.

Blaze hits downtown hotel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four persons, including a firefighter, went to the hosptial Thursday morning after a smoky blaze in a downtown, economy-class hotel.

The blaze was at the Hotel El Mejor in the La Castellana area two blocks south of Parque Central.

One man was hurt when he jumped from the second floor and hit his head on the sidewalk.

Firemen worked to rescue several guests because the hotel had some barred windows and lacked emergency exits another essential fire safety devices.

Have you seen these stories?

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Costa Rica
third newspage

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 11, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 93

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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An unbroken seed pod could also be described as having the likeness of a baseball mitt.
guanacaste fruit
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton

Northern Zone residents still think that their tree is better
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There are at least two guanacaste trees over 100 years old in Costa Rica.  One is in in Liberia, Guanacaste.  The other, said to be between 120 to 135 years, is on the Escuela Tecnica Agroindustria property in Santa Clara de San Carlos. 

On June 15, 2005, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad awarded the one in Santa Clara second place as an exceptional tree, for its historical and botanical importance. 

However, the locals in Santa Clara say that, in reality, their tree should have gotten first place because theirs has a larger trunk diameter than the one in Guanacaste and that the other tree won only because it is in the province of Guanacaste, its namesake, and for being the second largest. 

According to a retired professor, Alejandro Cháves, in 2005 a forest engineer measured the tree for INBio, and submitted figures saying the tree was 30 meters high (98 feet) with a diameter of 9.5 meters (31 feet) not including the vines growing on the trunk.  When measured again, this time over the vines and including the massive roots around the base of the tree, the engineer got a figure of 2.75 meters, nearly 9 feet, greater than the first measurement.

The area of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, used to be part of Nicaragua, so the guanacaste tree is now said to be native to both Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  The guanacaste tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), was designated as the national tree of Costa Rica in 1959.  It belongs to the leguminous family and the subfamily of the mimosas and is found along the coasts of Central America as well as Cuba and in the lowlands of the Antilles. 

Very similar to the El Salvadoran Inbdian name conacaste, guanacaste means "ear tree" or “elephant’s ear tree” since its compressed and curled seed pods look like ears or elephant’s ears, more so human ears when it breaks in half or fourths.  Its name, enterolobium, surely comes from the earlobe appearance of its seedpods. 

An unbroken seed pod could also be described as having the likeness of a baseball mitt.  During March and April, the vainas, its fruit, (the ear shaped seed pods) turn a rich chocolate brown as they ripens and fall.  Its fruit generally carries between 10 and 22 seeds. Its flower is white and rounded.  The seed pod is glossy, soft and flexible, and easily comes apart in sections. 

The seeds, however, are difficult to pull out of the gooey,
guanacaste tree
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Gigantic tree with traditional umbrella shape.

tough fibers of the pod, which have a sticky, honey-like film.  The striking appearance of the seeds hints at the beauty of the wood, which is used for expensive furniture, expensive more for its beauty than its quality.  Ironically, according to the locals, when the seeds are covered with water, they produce a soapy foam, which, they also say, people used to use to wash their clothes. 

The seeds are also used in designs for bamboo curtains.

Its water resistant wood, it is said, is easy to work with, and is used in carpentry and ornamental crafts.   Its rich, tannic bark is used as a cold medicine and coloring, and the sap is used to relieve bronchitis.  Cattle eat its low-lying, super wide-canopied branches, leaves and seed pods, and find relief in the shade of this wider than tall, heart-stopping tree.

According to one source, the tree is a symbol of stability and growth. The tree  represents the growing pride of the Costa Rican identity.  Its massive trunk represents the will, and the immense umbrella-shaped crown of the tree, spiritual consciousness.

This month the diameter of the trunk of the guanacaste tree in Santa Clara about 6 feet above the base, unofficially measures 32.5 feet, including the thick, woody vines growing on top of the trunk. 

From the farthest end of a branch on one side, to the farthest end of a branch on the other side, it unofficially measures a total of 180 feet.  That would be 60 large single steps (about 3 feet per step) from one farthest side to the other farthest side, or, 30 large single steps (about 3 feet per step) from the trunk to the farthest end of a branch on one side.

The food is great and plentiful, and the care is responsive
This is not the typical retirement living facility that one is familiar with in the United States where one has an apartment with a kitchen and can cook or choose to take meals in the communal dining room and live independently pursuing one’s interests. No one here goes off to play golf in the morning.  There are no cooking facilities in the apartments, although one may bring whatever one wants and is able to fit it into the two rooms and a bath.  I have a full sized fridge, a microwave, my electric espresso maker and a George Foreman grill.  I may bring my toaster oven because nobody double toasts bread the way I like it.

I also have full access to cable Internet and TV, although I have to learn all the new channels.  And I can come and go as I please, just reporting to Dixie, the nurse, or to the kitchen if I am not going to be here for meals.

I also can call and tell the kitchen if I want my meals served in my apartment or if I want something special, like an egg for breakfast or a particular fruit.  They serve three full sized meals a day.  Lunch and dinner are usually three courses, beginning with soup.  On Sunday we had tongue for lunch (quite delicious) with string beans, potatoes (and the ubiquitous rice), along with a broccoli and tomato salad.  Dinner was more potato, a vegetable and a nicely done chicken leg.

I finally, sadly, told the kitchen staff that I really did not like papaya, even though it was good for me, and that was why I left the bowl of papaya untouched each morning.  The next morning I had a bowl of peeled and sliced fresh pear by my plate. 

I had better join both the recreational therapy and the physical therapy groups, not to mention make use of the swimming pool next door, if I continue to eat three meals a day. 

The big plus for me and perhaps others in my situation, is medical.  Being a Costa Rican resident, I am eligible for the social security medical insurance, which I have often referred to as “the Caja.”  This system has hospitals and clinics in various parts of the city and country.  I have, as long-time readers of my column now know, had experience with just about all of them in the city.  This is because, as my friend Bonnie tells me, I have no 'zitskeit.’
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

(That means, she said, the ability to sit still.)  As a result, I am running to the pharmacies in one hospital or another to drop off and then pick up my prescriptions.  This can be very time consuming.  Here, the staff either takes care of getting my medications or Victor, the gardener-driver, takes me to the proper place.  The doctor, a gerontologist, comes in twice a week. 

This week I started physical therapy for my wrist, which is still a bit weak after its break in November.  I also said I wanted to strengthen my legs so that getting on buses would be easier.  The pool at the club is heated, so I think I will try some early morning swims.

Of course, I have been getting many letters from people wanting to know how much.  For what I have described that is available to me, I pay $1,000 per month.  I have what is called a “double” or larger apartment. 

For the “single” apartment accommodating one person, the cost is $800 per month.  If I were to need a nurse or attendant full-time living with me, I would be responsible for paying her salary, her social security and whatever else is required.  She (or I) would pay $100 a month for her meals. The attendants here live in the apartments with their charges.  For a couple, living in my size apartment, the cost would be $1,500 per month.

For a number of reasons this would be an ideal place for a writer to hide out and spend a few months finishing a novel or memoir.  But that is not the purpose of this residence.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Jostuart@amcostarica.com.

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You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

A.M. Costa Rica
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Real estate
About us
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 11, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 93

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From a hotel owner:

'At this time we have a deposit and all looks good!!  Thank you for your help, and I must say
your paper is impressive, and I had no idea you had such a circulation around the world.  Received many inquiries for our hotel for that reason.'

She used our classifieds!

Consumer information survey finds fault in many hotels, restaurants
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's consumer watchdogs found that 92.5 percent of the hotels and 55.3 percent of restaurants surveyed did not comply with a law designed to give consumers complete pricing information.

The investigators from the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio checked up on 40 hotels and 47 restaurants in San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago and Puntarenas that might be frequented by local and international tourists.

The report came out Thursday.The survey focused on Law 7472 that outlines what information must be provided to shoppers.

A ministry report noted that midyear vacations are coming, and a lot of families will be going away from home and making use of hotel and restaurant services.
Only three out of the 40 hotels  were found to be in compliance. They were the Hotel Bosque de Paz near Bajos del Toro Amarillo, Hotel Tangeri in Jacó and Gestoria Irazú in Oreamuno, Cartago, the ministry said.  The rules included having a visible sign with the room rates at the registration desk, having information about various housing options visible there, having information about other services and their full prices there, having information over the money exchange rate and specifying taxes in the stated rate.

Some 21 of the 47 restaurants complied with the rules. Failures included menus without prices or without taxes listed or without stating the 15 percent charge for service.

The ministry announcement said that hotels and restaurants that were not in compliance will get another chance. Inspectors will visit them a month from now. Those still are in violation will be haled before the Comisión Nacional del Consumidor.

Decision to drop charge against Posada draws heat from Cuba, Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela and Cuba have accused the United States of harboring a terrorist after a U.S. federal judge dropped immigration fraud charges against Cuban-born former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro repeated his government's demand Wednesday for the extradition of the 79-year-old Posada Carriles. Maduro spoke in Venezuela at a joint news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.

Pérez Roque said Posada Carriles' release shows what Cuban minister called the hypocrisy of the U.S. government.

Posada Carriles is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela, where he is accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people. He denies any wrongdoing.

Tuesday, the judge in El Paso, Texas dismissed an
indictment against Posada Carriles. She said statements Posada Carriles made that were to be used against him at his trial had been improperly obtained.

Tuesday's move came three days before Posada Carriles was scheduled to go on trial on charges that he illegally entered the United States in 2005. Prosecutors are reviewing the judge's decision.

The Cuban-born Posada Carriles is a naturalized Venezuelan citizen.

U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Democrat, issued a statement Wednesday calling on President George Bush to detain Posada Carriles. Delahunt said unless President Bush takes action, the world will conclude that his administration has a double standard when it comes to fighting terrorism.

The senator said Posada Carriles' release could be catastrophic to U.S. efforts to rally other nations to fight al Qaeda, especially in the Muslim world where he said some view Osama bin Laden as a similar hero.

Diamond trade names two countries that do not comply to global standards
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Diamond Council, the association responsible for regulating the global diamond trade, has singled out Zimbabwe and Venezuela for not meeting global standards aimed at curtailing the trade in so-called conflict diamonds.

The leaders of the world diamond trade wrapped up their annual meeting Thursday in Jerusalem.

The glittering trade in diamonds has long had an ugly side to it. The illicit trade in what are called conflict, or blood diamonds has helped to fuel civil conflicts in Africa.

But, in 2003, diamond companies, civil society groups and governments around the world began an effort to stop the trade in conflict diamonds. Called the Kimberley Process for the town in South Africa where it was first proposed, the plan involves a certification system that tracks the origin of virtually every diamond that is sold around the world.

The chairman of the World Diamond Council, Eli Izhakoff, says, while the trade in conflict diamonds was never more than 5 percent of the total global trade in diamonds, it is now down to about 1 percent. He says two countries in particular need to do more to adhere to the standards of the Kimberley Process.

"We have some problems in Zimbabwe, where the
government is cooperating in trying to put their house in order, and, hopefully, we can resolve that situation," he said. "One other situation that is outstanding is Venezuela, where they have not been in compliance with the Kimberley certification scheme. We are hopeful they will do the right thing. But, if not, the Kimberley Process certification scheme will have to take some action."

If countries do not meet Kimberley Process standards, they may find it impossible to sell their diamonds on the international market, because buyers will not buy uncertified diamonds.

Recently the U.N. Security Council voted to lift its ban on the sale of Liberian diamonds, because Liberia had made progress at stopping the trade in conflict diamonds.

Alex Yearsly of the public-interest group Global Witness helped to lead the fight to ban conflict diamonds. He says while conflict diamonds no longer largely fuel civil wars, the dark underside of diamond production is still a problem that can fall outside of the Kimberley Process.

"One of the key things is internal controls in alluvial diamond producing countries. There are still many problems with that," he said. "Regulations are not enforced, and they are lax. There are awful human rights violations in some of these countries, where the military and the police take law into their own hands and steal the diamonds themselves."

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