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These stories were published Wednesday, May 22, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 100
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He set the hook with butterflies, cops say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The expert had a great idea: to raise butterflies for export. All he needed was some startup capital.

The only problem, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization, is that the whole project was a scam to steal money.

So Monday agents arrested Ulises Brenes Hernández and said he was the man who pretended to be a biologist and butterfly specialist while he defrauded at least three rural landowners.

According to agents, the plan worked this way:

A man who identified himself as an expert in butterflies would approach a well-off finca owner and suggest that together they would earn weekly income in foreign currency by 
building a structure to raise some of the country’s more striking butterflies.

If the landowner was interested, the man would ask for sufficient money to build the structure, for management and for the work needed to obtain required permissions from governmental agencies.

Sometimes he would return to the individuals who had put up the money and ask for additional cash to plant vegetation attractive 

to butterflies. Sometimes he would suggest that the landowner sell or mortgage his property to raise the needed cash.

But when a victim went looking for the butterfly operation, he would realize that he had been scammed. In one case, the conman took 5 million colons (about $14,000). One time he took 2 million colons ($5,.600). A third scam netted just 78,000 colons ($220).

According to a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization, the scam artist would not suggest raising any butterflies that are protected in Costa Rica, just the readily available but very striking varieties.

The scheme was a plausible one because legitimate businesses here, including the Butterfly Farm, a well-known tourist attraction, actually do raise butterflies for export.

Agents said they thought that more persons in Costa Rica had been scammed by the phony butterfly farming story. They asked that anyone so tricked should contact them at 771-3449 or 785-0300.

Although Brenes was arrested in the center of San Isidro by agents from Pérez Zeledón, investigators said they thought that the scam had been worked all over the country.

Brenes was put in jail for six months while the investigation continues.

Iceland bolts from international whaling talks to go it alone
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan —Iceland's delegation angrily walked out of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission being held here, the home of Japan's whaling fleet. Iceland's acrimonious departure came after its application for membership was rejected for the second time in two years. 

Iceland accuses the International Whaling Commission of behaving illegally and says it will no longer remain an observer to the group. Whaling Commissioner Stefan Asmundsson also indicated that Iceland might consider resuming commercial whaling without the international group’s approval. 

Iceland's request for full membership was rejected Monday, the first day of the group's annual meeting. It is being viewed as an unexpected victory for the anti-whaling members, such as Australia and the United States. Iceland has had non-voting observer status since 1992, when it left the organization to protest its whaling ban. 

Pro-whaling nations such as host country Japan and Norway had hoped that Iceland would be admitted and help them gain a simple majority in the international commission. That would have strengthened their campaign to overturn the ban on commercial whaling, in place since 

1986. Without a simple majority, it is doubtful that the pro-whaling bloc can even bring the proposal up for a vote before the gathering wraps up on Friday. 

Japan and Iceland both argue that abundant whale species are consuming their fish stocks and that the mammals should be hunted within limits. The United States and others reject this claim. 

Tsutomu Takebe, Japan's agriculture minister, says he still hopes to win greater support for the traditions of hunting whales and eating their meat, which is considered a delicacy in Japan. "It is wrong for others to say that eating whale meat is bad," he said, adding that "Japan is gradually gaining understanding from other member countries and that it is important to continue to ask for their acceptance." 

Japan has until Friday to muster support for an expansion of what it calls its research whaling program. Critics say Japan's whale research program is a way of skirting the ban on killing whales for commercial purposes, and on Tuesday rejected Tokyo's request to hunt 50 minke whales in nearby waters. 

Tokyo will also attempt to block proposals for new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans, where the killing of whales would be prohibited. 

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A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Otto Reich walks with U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich down the steps of the Costa Rican foreign ministry building during a trip to San José earlier this month.

Reich says Bush's idea
designed to change Cuba

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush's "Initiative for a New Cuba," which the president announced in a major policy speech at the White House Monday, is designed to generate "rapid and peaceful" change within that Caribbean country, says Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

In congressional testimony Tuesday, Reich reiterated that the initiative challenges the Cuban government to undertake political and economic reforms and to conduct free and fair elections in 2003 for the Cuban National Assembly.

If the Cuban government takes concrete steps to open up its political and economic system, Bush will work with the U.S. Congress to ease the ban on trade and travel between the United States and Cuba, Reich told a Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce, and Tourism.

Reich, who was born in Cuba, said the president's initiative is not the end of the Bush Administration's policy review, "but the beginning of an ongoing, flexible, and responsive campaign" to help Cuba make the transition to democracy.

He also emphasized earlier claims by the Bush Administration that Cuba has a sophisticated biotechnology infrastructure capable of supporting a biological weapons program and has transferred dual-use technology to a number of countries around the world, including those with known or suspected biological weapons programs.

"These facts underpin our assessment that Cuba has at least a limited, developmental biological weapons research and development effort," Reich said.

Despite Cuba's "aggressive policies" against the United States, Reich said the Bush initiative offers a serious alternative to the present hostile relationship between the two governments.

Reich concluded his statement by citing the president's belief that it is time for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro "to cast aside old and failed ideas and to start to think differently about the future." Quoting from Bush's speech about U.S. policy toward Cuba, Reich added: "Today could mark a new dawn in a long friendship between our people, but only if the Castro regime sees the light."

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said that the regime of Fidel Castro continues to harbor international fugitives suspected of terrorist activity and other violent crimes, while refusing to cooperate with countries seeking to extradite those fugitives. That was the gist of the State Department's annual "Pattern of Global Terrorism" report relating to Cuba.

Castro's regime has allowed members of various terrorist organizations "to reside in Cuba as privileged guests" and "provided some degree of safe haven and support" to these criminals. In addition, the report says that during the past year, "numerous U.S. fugitives continued to live on the island, including Joanne Chesimard, wanted in the United States for the murder in 1973 of a New Jersey police officer and living as a guest of the Castro regime since 1979. 

U.S. Senate nearing vote
on key trade measure

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. Senate is moving toward likely passage of a package of trade bills including one granting trade negotiating authority to the president.

Senate leaders expected a vote on the bill could come today or tomorrow after nearly five weeks of debate. Since one amendment anathema to the Bush Administration —  called the Dayton-Craig amendment — was approved May 14, senators have blocked or defeated most other substantial amendments.

In one key decision Tuesday Democratic senators failed to get the votes needed to end debate on an amendment that would have provided health care benefits to retired steel workers. After supporters managed to get only 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed under Senate rules, the sponsors withdrew the amendment, which was vigorously opposed by the administration.

In another key vote senators voted to table, or kill, another amendment opposed by the administration. It would have restricted in future trade agreements the rights of foreign investors to challenge U.S. state and local health, environmental and other regulations in international tribunals. The amendment sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, had strong support from state and local governments.

Vice President Richard Cheney made a rare appearance as president of the Senate to break a tie vote on another amendment. On the 49-49 tie, Cheney's vote defeated the amendment that would have provided government assistance on mortgage payments to workers who lose their jobs as a result of imports.

Earlier at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce session in Washington U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick expressed confidence that the Dayton-Craig amendment would not survive into a final trade bill. It concerns trade promotion authority, otherwise known as fast track.

In the past, under fast track Congress restricted itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments. Under Dayton-Craig, Congress could vote separately to reject part of a negotiated agreement that affected antidumping or other U.S. trade remedy laws.

Even if the Senate passes its trade package, obstacles to final passage remain. To become law, a final bill reconciling very different Senate and House of Representatives versions would have to be passed in each chamber and then get the president's signature. Zoellick was indicating that the Dayton-Craig amendment would get dropped in the House-Senate conference.

The House passed its version of fast track in December by one vote, 215-214. 

World treaty on music
enters into effect

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international treaty negotiated in 1996 to protect the rights of singers, musicians, actors and other performers on the Internet entered into force May 20, the World Intellectual Property Organization announced. 

The WIPO Phonograms and Performances Treaty  is one of a pair of treaties negotiated by 160 countries to protect against Internet piracy. The second pact, the WIPO Copyright Treaty protecting authors' rights on the Internet, entered into force March 6. 

The WPPT updates international standards of protection for performers set out in the 1961 Rome Convention to cover use of their performances on the Internet, the organization said Monday.

Director General Kamil Idris described the treaties' entry into force as "a significant first step in creating the conditions necessary for the broad-based and legitimate distribution of creative works and recordings on the Internet." 

Boy dies in Pacific surf

A 15-year-old boy drowned Sunday on Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio while surfing, said investigators. The body was discovered Monday afternoon. Sources in Manuel Antonio said the boy was Kénneth Durán Rodríguez, and they gave the age as 13. 

Pacheco fires head
of social agency

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

The president of the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social, Costa Rica’s big antipoverty agency, is out of her job. 

President Abel Pacheco said Tuesday he had relieved the woman, Roxana Víquez and appointed a commission to investigate alleged irregularities in the purchase of 40 pieces of land in Calle Pastoral de San Ramón, Alajuela. 

Ms. Víquez, in her capacity as head of the agency, authorized the purchase of the properties in December 2000. Pacheco said Tuesday that the Contraloría General de la República, the watchdog agency, had determined that the land was not appropriate for the construction of dwellings. That was the purported reason for the purchases. 

The properties cost 15.3 million colons or about $52,000 at the exchange rate then. 

The sellers were politicians and relatives of politicians affiliated with Pacheco’s Partido Unidad Social Cristiana. 

The last straw for Pacheco was when Ms. Víquez held a press conference last week and said she never bothered to read the property transfer documents that she signed. 

The investigative commission will be made up of the minister of Vivienda, Helio Fallas; of Justicia, José Miguel Villalobos, and the minister of the Presidency, Rina Contreras. 

"These in one month are going to give a verdict, and for this also the intervention of the Ministerio Público has been asked," said the president. The Ministerio Público is the national police agency. 

Eventually, the Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social will be raised to cabinet level, the president said, adding that the commission also will suggest names of people to head the agency. 

Year’s terror report
highlights Sept. 11

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some 3,547 people were killed in international terrorist attacks in 2001, "the highest annual death toll from terrorism ever recorded," according to the U.S. State Department's annual terrorism report. 

Of the total fatalities, 90 percent occurred in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 2001" report said. By comparison, in 2000, 409 people died in international terrorist attacks. 

Citizens from 78 countries were killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York City alone, the report said. 

The State Department released its annual report on terrorism, which is required by the U.S. Congress, at a news briefing Tuesday.

The annual report, which is double in size from previous years, notes that eight other U.S. citizens were killed and 15 wounded in other acts of terrorism last year. 

The full report is available on the State Department's Internet website at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2001/

 Prisoner murdered
in Alajuela facility

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

A convicted robber died Tuesday morning afer being stabbed in a dispute at the Centro Penitenciario La Reforma in Alajuela. 

Investigators identified the man as Freddy González Flores, an inmate in minimum security section of the prison. The principal suspect in the killing is Melvin Calvo More, who is in jail for homicide, said investigators. 

Tunnel from Mexico
could be 20 years old

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Authorities in California have sealed a tunnel that was used to bring drugs from Mexico to the United States. Investigators say the passage was a conduit for a Mexican drug cartel. After months of investigation, a larger picture of the operation is now emerging. 

Acting on a tip, U.S. investigators found the passageway beneath a house east of here in late February. The tunnel began beneath a ranch house near Tecate, Mexico, east of Tijuana. Stretching 266 meters northward, it ended on the U.S. side of the border beneath a house that was unoccupied much of the time. 

The drug operation was active. Inside the tunnel, authorities found a 135-kilogram stash of marijuana. 

Don Thornhill of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says billions of dollars in drugs may have gone through the passageway, over a decade or longer. The drug enforcement official says the tunnel may have existed in rough form 20 years ago. 

No arrests have been made, but authorities believe the tunnel was operated by Tijuana's Arellano Felix drug cartel. The man who runs the cartel in Tecate is being held in Mexico City on separate narcotics charges. 

Drug enforcement officials say smaller cross-border tunnels have been found near San Diego, but none this elaborate. They estimate that construction of this passageway took two years. With the U.S. side cemented shut, they say the tunnel is now out of operation.

Concerns voiced
on child soldiers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, New York — The United Nations refugee agency said it is concerned that armed groups in Colombia are forcing refugee children to join their fight against government troops. 

The agency said it is getting reports that rebel groups in Colombia are forcing children to fight as soldiers in the rebel conflict with the Colombian government. 

Spokeswoman Jennifer Clark said the reports say the rebel groups are recruiting child soldiers in Colombia's border areas with Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. "We had some reports that illegal armed groups from Columbia have been recruiting, particularly Colombian boys under the age of 18, in these regions to fight. This is of great concern to us. It is a violation of international law and the rights of children and certainly can have serious consequences for the refugees and particularly the children," Ms. Clarke said. 

She said the agency fears that if the conflict between rebels and Colombian government troops intensifies, rebel groups could increase their recruitment of child soldiers. 

Six Ticos arrested
near Niagara Falls

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. Border Patrol agents grabbed six Costa Ricans who tried to sneak into the country across the Niagara River, according to news reports in the United States and Canada.

The six were arrested in Lewiston across the Niagara River from Queenston, the reports said. They arrived there by boat.

Some seven Costa Ricans went to jail April 29 after they crossed from Canada by crawling on the supports under a railroad bridge, the news reports said.

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