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These stories were published Monday, June 3, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 108
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Lucky dog in pre-ordeal photo

Lost dog brings out
the best and worst

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is a lost dog story with a warm and a dark side. This also is a tale about how a couple in Santa Ana did almost the impossible: They got their missing dog back.

But in the meantime, they got a glimpse at the underside of human nature.

The story starts May 22 when Midnight, the dog of Mr. and Mrs. Jason Neiman disappeared. The couple had just moved from the Curridabat area.

Naturally they were upset and distributed fliers in the Pozoa and Santa Ana areas describing the dog and offering a 100,000-colon ($280) reward. They also put a photo on the Web.

Nine days later, an injured but recuperating dog, minus, collar and tags, turned up.

"Midnight was returned to us Friday evening, May 31, by a couple originally from the United States," said Neiman in an e-mail message. "The woman saw Midnight get hit by a car and was able to get him inside her car before anothor oncoming vehicle came across his path. While his leg is broken and set with four pins, we expect him to recover."

He added: "I'd like to thank this couple for their kindness and generosity in taking Midnight to the veternarian and treating him like he was one of their own." The couple had seen a flier that Neiman had put out.

But now the dark side. Neiman said he and his wife got a number of telephone calls from people who honestly thought they had seen the dog.

But some were less than honest. Said Neiman: "I wish to warn your readers regarding some of the less compassionate and downright criminal behavior of some people meaning to make worse a bad situation."

The fliers they distributed prompted calls from people who pretended to have the dog and wanted a payoff. Said Neiman:

"These people had called saying they had the dog yet they could not describe him. And they requested that we pay 50,000 colones ($140) up front before they would even show us the dog. Then if it was our dog, we should pay an additional 50,000 colones for the dog to be returned to us."

"Needless to say, we weren't born yesterday. These people had obviously tried this before, and some had said they were professional dog thiefs. This ransom was never paid and rightly so."

"I would caution your readers to this scam. Anyone who has lost a pet will understand the emotional turmoil that occurs, especially when calls come in claiming their pet is found."

Neiman said that he has heard of other pet owners who did pay off in vain to the phony petnappers.

Immigration sweeps
target city, Caribbean 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials and police conducted sweeps in the center San José area again over the weekend. In some cases they went door-to-door seeking illegal foreigners.

At least one U.S. citizen was caught in the sweep near Plaza González Víquez Saturday morning. His name was not released.

At the same time travelers reported that document checks were being conducted aggressively along the Caribbean coast. One couple riding a bus in the Puerto Viejo-Limón area said they were stopped three times by three different contingents of police. Each time their documents were checked.

The immigration efforts have been going on in San José for several weeks. The primary targets are illegal Colombians and Dominicans. In fact, the sweep Saturday was in a low-budget area where many new residents live. 

Immigration agents and police in the past have targeted bars and other hangouts in the city searching for illegal foreigners working as waitresses and prostitutes.

The sweep on the Caribbean might have something to do with an attempt to locate a ring of gun traffickers who tried to smuggle a truckload of weapons into Panamá last week. The smugglers ended up in a running gun battle with police in Panamá, and at least two of the smugglers escaped by fleeing into Costa Rica. Two others were caught.

The guns, AK-47s, were believed to be part of a shipment bound for fighters in Colombia. The exact route has not been reported. Police officials are known to be nervous by the large numbers of former Colombian fighters who have come to Costa Rica as refugees. Many have settled in the Caribbean area.

Investigators in San José are still trying to solve the drive-by murders of three Colombians who were killed in two ambushes, including a high-profile one on the Sabanilla highway at rush hour. All three crimes are believed to be linked to activities outside of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has had long experience with overflow from nearby wars. The civil war in Nicaragua caused many unwanted incidents here in the 1980s.

U.S. citizens usually have 90 days to spend as tourists in Costa Rica. Some frequently leave the country for at least three days and then re-enter for a second 90 days. So-called "perpetual tourists" are those who either repeat the exit strategy more than a few times or pay off low-level workers to place the proper stamps on the passport.

Quake felt in valley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 4.6 magnitude earthquake took place Sunday near Pérez Zeledón in the southern part of Costa Rica, according to local officials. The cause was attributed to as local fault.

That was at 6:52 a.m. Some 18 minutes later a quake of the same magnitude took place off the Pacific coast of Panamá. That location was set at about 100 miles (160 kms.) south of David, Panamá, by the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center. That was attributed to stress on a pair of tectonic plate

There were no reports of damage or of quake-generated ocean waves in Costa Rica .

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica reported the Costa Rican tremor

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Another tourist falls to downtown band of muggers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another U.S. citizen has fallen victim to the band of muggers who seem to work with impunity in the tourist area of downtown San José.

The man, a middle-aged Melbourne, Fla., resident said he was taken down and rendered unconscious by four men on Calle 5 while several policemen were standing just around the corner on the pedestrian boulevard.

The mugging Thursday night was not typical. The muggers have been plying their trade usually on Friday and Saturday nights for the last year. 

The victim said that two men approached him as he was walking on Calle 5 between the boulevard and Avenida 1. One of the two men came up close to him and shouted something, and before he could react, two more men had grabbed him from behind. This happened about 9 p.m. The muggers applied a choke hold that caused the man to lose consciousness and fall down.

The men got about $190, he said. Later, two policemen came by, talked to him and scribbled something on some papers, he added.

The crime probably was not listed officially as a 
 

robbery because police here usually require that the victim personally appear at the office of the Fuerza Pública or at the Judicial Investigating Organization to file a report. For this reason most of the mugging of foreigners and tourists in this section of the city and elsewhere probably will not be listed on official crime statistical reports.

As many as 50 English speakers probably have been mugged in the area during the last year, sometimes as many as three in an evening. Costa Ricans also are victims, but the number of such persons so involved is more difficult to find.

A.M. Costa Rica brought the situation to the attention of the anti-robbery section of the Judicial Investigating Organization three weeks ago, but investigators said that such crimes actually have gone down over the last year. One investigator said foreigners should avoid walking alone.

The muggers have been less than discrete. Some business owners in the area have watched suspects waiting for potential victims in the vicinity of Avenida 1 and Calle 7. The muggers make use of doorways and other irregularities in the buildings to conceal themselves. The men are described as being of average Costa Rican height and muscular and perhaps 30 to 40 years old. One may be older, perhaps as much as 60. He is a spotter.


 
Tourism fair reported a little slow despite deals 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism exhibitors think that a location west of San José was an important factor in the low attendance this weekend at the Feria Nacional de Turismo at the Herradura Conference Center.

Exhibitors also complained that many people who came and paid their 500-colon ($1.40) entrance fee were more interested in scooping up discount coupons than in actually viewing the exhibits. A number of deals were available for Costa Ricans and residents.

The exhibits were cut in half from the trade-only EXPOTUR held in the same spot earlier in the week. While EXPOTUR required two big salons to accommodate the 240 exhibition booths, the national tourism fair was reduced to one room and some hallway exhibits. A good estimate is that some 120 exhibitors showed their stuff at the national tourism fair.

Exhibitors at EXPOTUR could participate in the national tourism fair for an addition $200 fee. Some said that after two intense days of selling at EXPOTUR the national fair for the general public was a physical challenge.

Both shows, EXPOTUR for professionals and the national fair for the public, were put on by the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo.

Previous exhibits at FERCORI exhibition center in downtown San José attracted more people, some experienced participants said. Parking also was a factor. The Herradura Conference Center uses the same lot as the nearby hotel, and many visitors

had to park their car on the road. FERCORI is Feria Internacional de Costa Rica located in the former customs building at Avenida 3 and Calle 23.

The Herradura conference Center is on the General Cañas highway on the route to Juan Santamaría Airport from San José. However, others said that limited promotion and the economy might also have been factors.

Those who did go learned, for example, that Grupo TACA, the Central American airline company, will begin a three-times a week flight to Boston June 27. To celebrate the new route, the company is offering a $440 roundtrip fare. Taxes are extra. The flight touches down in El Salvador, but there is no change in planes.

Visitors also learned that a number of hotels were offering two-for-one getaways for the rainy season, delicately called ‘green season" by those in the tourism industry.

Nicaragua and the Colonial city of Grenada there also were represented, as was Fossil Land, a limestone quarry and caverns in Quebrada Honda de Patarrá in Desamparados that is a developing tourist attraction.

Visitors also could meet life-size pre-Colombian figures promoting archaeological tours by Michael J. Snarskis, a long-time professional, and a firm that makes such replicas.

El Museo de los Niños also had an elaborate booth along with a sophisticated Flash computer presentation. The museum and a few other exhibitors did not participate in EXPOTUR but came just for the tourism fair.

Increase in 'hits' reflect growing utility of Internet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica in May experienced the greatest increase in computer "hits" in its nine months of existence. The usage was testimony to the increased utility of the Internet in day-to-day life.

Total hits were 257,511 compared to 155,617 the month before. That’s a 65 percent increase. 

The increase was attributed to more interest in Costa Rica as a summer vacation spot and also the proliferation of automated web search engines that are being used for marketing purposes.

Total "sessions.," that is the number of readers who spend time viewing a number of pages, also was up, but only about 16 percent. Some 17,121 sessions were logged in April, and 19,855 were logged in May. "Sessions" represent the most conservative method of charting the readership of Web pages.

Whereas a hit is registered each time a computer somewhere seeks to open a Web page, "sessions" is the number of unique users who visited a web site.

Unlike circulation figures for print publications, Web pages record a hit or a session only when someone actually opens the page on a computer somewhere. A big problem with print publications are people who subscribe to the newspaper or magazine but never actually read it when it arrives. They sometimes do this because the publication arrives at a busy time, the material is seen as unwanted or the material arrives late.

Some persons subscribe to print publications out of a sense of duty, particularly those who live in an area a long time. Such subscriptions provide income for the newspaper or magazine but do not help 

advertisers who seek to sell their goods with advertising in the unread publication.

Print publication statistics are flat all over the world as the Internet provides a cheaper, faster and more reliable method of reaching customers. Plus, the Internet with its hot links for Web pages and e-mails provides instant feedback for customers.

The downside of the Internet is the proliferation of unwanted e-mail messages, so called "spam." A typical Hotmail.com or Yahoo.com e-mail inbox may attract 100 such messages each day. Some promote porn sites, other personal items. But they also tout unknown stocks, debt reduction, medical insurance, mortgages and the well-known Nigeria letter scams.

On Sunday, one Hotmail account associated with this newspaper received the same message 31 times from operators of a Web site featuring naughty photos.

Major Internet companies, such as Microsoft, have mixed minds on such unwanted messages. On the one hand, company officials condemn the practice while at the same time they open divisions and create software to assist in the mailing of bulk, unwanted e-mail messages.

The proliferation of Internet Web pages also presents a problem. A Yahoo search Sunday for the phrase "Costa Rica travel" generated 291 responses, far too many for a potential tourist to explore in depth.

Yet, the Internet is beginning to dominate foreign tourism. Some exhibitors at recent EXPOTUR, the annual trade show for tourism, said they get upwards of 35 to 60 percent of their international business from the Internet. 

Sámara beach cleanup
to be part of celebration

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Amigas de la Playa Sámara are putting on a Mesoamerican Festival of the Environment and Culture, "Madre Fértil Tierra Nuestra" Saturday and Sunday at the Pacific beach town. In addition to arts, crafts and entertainment, the festival has a serious edge.

Sessions Saturday afternoon will discuss waste disposal by residents and hotels. But a concert will follow.

Sunday the participants take to the beach to clean it up. In addition to residents, students from Escuelas de Sámara, El Torito, Maquenco, Cuesta Grande, Buena Vista y Carrillo and Colegio de Telesecundaria have agreed to help.

The event is being sponsored by Colegio de Playa Sámara, Grupo Ambiental Los Amigos de Playa Sámara, LazDívaz, Asociación Terra Nostra and the government Oficina de Educación.

Information is available at 656-0310

Four-day bash marks
50 years for Elizabeth

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of Britons have enjoyed an evening of music, dance and fireworks as the country opened four days of celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth's 50th anniversary on the British throne.

About 12,000 people who won free tickets in a lottery gathered on the grounds of Buckingham Palace Saturday evening for a concert of classical music. The program featured performances by such figures as New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, renowned Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and dancers from the Royal Ballet. 

Thousands of others enjoyed the performance on giant video screens set up in nearby parks and in other locations throughout Britain. The concert was also broadcast live on television. 

Following the concert the queen walked to the front of Buckingham Palace where she greeted crowds gathered to congratulate her on the occasion.

Tourism officials estimate at least one third of all Britons will take part in commemorations of some kind over the course of the long weekend. The celebration coincides with Britain's first soccer match in the World Cup.

A three-hour pop concert will be held at the palace tonight with performances by such stars as Elton John, Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney.

The highlight of the celebrations comes Tuesday with a ceremonial royal procession to a thanksgiving service at Saint Paul's Cathedral, followed by an afternoon of music, parades and pageants.

Earlier this month, the Queen toured Britain as part of the golden jubilee celebrations. She is attending parades, parties, and concerts throughout England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

The anniversary is also being marked in the United States. New York's Empire State Building will be lighted up Tuesday in the Queen's official colors of gold and purple to mark the close ties between the American and British people. 

Mexican police grab
16 in truck ambush

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTO DOMINGO TEOJOMULCO, Mexico — Police have arrested 16 people in connection with the massacre of 26 sawmill workers in the mountainous region of Mexico's southern Oaxaca state. 

More than 200 police helped arrest the suspects Sunday in this town. Officials believe the suspects murdered the victims over a land dispute. The victims were from the neighboring town of Santiago Xochiltepec. 

A truck driver who survived the attack said he was driving the victims along a remote country road when he came upon a roadblock of rocks and logs. Gunmen ambushed the vehicle and opened fire. 

Land disputes between the two communities date back to the 1930s. Last week's murder is connected to claims that residents of one community are living on land owned by residents of the other community. 

The killings took place in the Agua Fria region, about 48 kilometers south of the state capital, Oaxaca City. 

Peace talks broken
in Havana session

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — the government says truce talks with the nation's second largest guerrilla group have collapsed. The Colombian government is blaming the guerrillas for undermining the talks. 

Colombian President Andres Pastrana Friday blamed the leftist group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, for the breakdown in talks, saying the guerrilla group refused to sign a proposed accord for reducing the conflict.

"Once again, when we were near to signing an accord, the ELN changed its mind and decided this week not to sign the document that both sides had drafted," he said. Pastrana added that he will make no further effort to negotiate with the ELN and will leave the matter to the next president of Colombia.

Earlier, government peace negotiator Camilo Gomez said the ELN had made what he called "unrealistic demands" such as financing a six-month cease-fire with $40 million. Gomez said the government would never accept such a proposal. He also said the two sides were unable to agree on how the ELN would demobilize.

The ELN has an estimated 4,000 combatants and is much smaller than the country's main leftist rebel group, the FARC which has some 17,000 fighters. The Pastrana government has been holding peace talks with the ELN in Havana since last year. 

Friday's announcement brings an end to President Pastrana's hopes that he would be able to negotiate a truce with Colombia's leftist rebels during his four-year term. Peace talks with the FARC were suspended in February.

President-elect Alvaro Uribe, who takes office in August, has promised a harder-line against the guerrillas on the battlefield as part of efforts to end the country's four-decade old civil war. 

Open house tonight
for little theatre group

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The English-speaking Little Theatre Group holds an open house tonight at 7 o’clock in the recently renamed Blanch Brown Theatre in Bello Horizonte.

A spokesperson promised free bocas and wine and a chance to catch up on the news. 

The next open house will be in September, and that session also will includes a preview of our upcoming production "Chase  me, Comrade" a British farce by Ray Cooney. 

Friday July 26, and Saturday, July 27, members will be presenting a dinner theatre featuring "Art" a one-act comedy about friendship written by Yasmina Reza and translated by well known British playwright Christopher  Hampton.  Produced by Tom Humes and featuring popular actresses Ann Antkiw, Lisa De Fuso and Susan Hall-Liang, the play will be followed by a dinner. 
 

World Cup action
begins in South Korea

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Denmark has opened its World Cup football campaign with a 2-1 victory over Uruguay in South Korea. 

Meanwhile, England fought to a tie, 1-1, against Sweden and Argentina defeated Nigeria, 1-0. And Senegal’s defeat of defending champ France gave players, coaches and fans lots to talk about.

Jon Dahl Tomasson scored both goals for Denmark in Ulsan, to give his team a 2-1 group A win against Uruguay.

Tomasson's first goal came from about eight meters out off a pass from Jesper Gronkjaer just before halftime. Dario Rodriguez equalized for Uruguay two minutes into the second half when he scored a left-footed volley, curling the shot into the upper corner of the goal. Tomasson's game-winner came on a header in the 83rd minute off a well-placed crossing pass from Martin Jorgensen.

"It's very important everybody knows the first game in the World Cup for the confidence, of course, if you can win such a game," said victorious Danish coach Morten Olsen. "And I think we deserved to win it. We were the better football team the last hour, and I think physically we were the better team."

With the 2-1 win, Denmark now shares the group A lead on three points with Senegal, which shocked defending champion France here in Seoul, 1-0, in the opening match Friday night. 

That huge upset had players and coaches alike believing anything is possible at this World Cup. U.S. defender Jeff Agoos said he and his teammates watched the France-Senegal game and said the result was not a total surprise.

"I think what it says is that the world of soccer has become quite close. Any team can beat any other team," he said. "The level from one through 20 or 30 has become quite even and anybody can beat anybody on a given day."

And U.S. soccer team coach Bruce Arena says Senegal's win over France is not likely to be the only surprise.

"I said that there's going to be upsets in the first round. I think they are all good teams in this tournament, and they're all capable of winning games in the first round, so I do not think that will be the first upset we see," Arena said. 

While the U.S. soccer team continues to prepare for its World Cup group D opener Wednesday against Portugal, France is refocusing for its next group A match Thursday against Uruguay.

World Cup favorite Argentina edged past Nigeria 1-0 in Ibaraki, while England and Sweden played to a one to one draw in Saitama, as Group F play got underway Sunday.

Argentina pressured Nigeria from the opening kickoff, but Super Eagles keeper Ike Shorunmu kept the Africans in the game. Argentine goalie Pablo Cavallero matched him with a spectacular save of Nigerian captain Jay Jay Okocha's blistering drive in the 32nd minute. 

Star striker Gabriel Batistuta finally broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute. He headed home a corner kick from the back post to give Argentina the 1-0 lead. Nigeria fought hard for the equalizer but was unable to penetrate the Argentine defense. Afterward, Batistuta had this to say: "It was very difficult to play a team as strong and physical as Nigeria in the first game, but I am happy we won. We knew Nigeria would be a tough opponent, but it is important to win your first game."

In the late match, England coach Sven Goran Eriksson's squad gave him the lead but was unable to give him a victory against his home country, Sweden. Sol Campbell gave England a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute as he headed David Beckham's corner kick into the net. 

Sweden equalized in the 59th minute when Niclas Alexandersson intercepted a weak clearing pass and blasted the ball into England's goal. Sweden dominated the rest of the half but could not break through again as the match ended in a one to one draw. Eriksson said it was a fair result: "It is because we played better in the first half," he observed, "and they came out very well in the the second half and created a lot of problems for us."

In matches in South Korea, South Africa fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw Paraguay two to two, and Spain beat Slovenia, three to one.

Two Group G matches will be played in Japan on Monday. In the early game, Croatia takes on Mexico in Niigata, with Italy and Ecuador facing off in the late match in Sapporo.

Costa Rica faces the People’s Republic of China Tuesday, which will be seen in San José just after midnight early Tuesday morning. 
 

Nicaraguan flooding
causes lots of damage

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Nicaragua has declared its Pacific coast a disaster area after days of torrential rains and severe flooding drove thousands of people from their homes and washed out many roads and bridges. 

Some of the worst damage is reported in the capital, Managua. But so far there are no confirmed reports of any deaths. Officials have said the flooding has damaged 1,200 homes and forced the evacuation of 3,000 people. 

Declaring a disaster allows government funds to be used to repair flood damage caused to the country's infrastructure. Nicaragua also is appealing for international aid. 

Health officials have expressed concern the flooding will cause outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as dengue and malaria. 
 

Bush seeks volunteers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush has urged U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at improving national volunteer service programs.

In his weekly radio address, Bush said the proposal — the USA Freedom Corps and the Citizen Service Act — was introduced in Congress more than a week ago. He said the legislation will expand and improve the efforts of the current Americorps and Senior Corps.

Bush urged the lawmakers to "act quickly." He also used the radio address to call for Americans to volunteer, saying the United States needs citizens working to strengthen their communities. Bush also said the Peace Corps, which works outside the United States, will double its volunteers over the next five years, expanding efforts to support education and development in the Islamic world.
 

Tourists use euros

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tourists visiting the Cuban resort of Varadero have begun using euros as part of a pilot project aimed at luring more European tourists to the Caribbean island. 

Saturday marked the first day all major establishments in Varadero accepted the Euro, allowing visiting Europeans to pay for meals, hotel rooms, and souvenirs without having to first change their money into dollars. 

Cuban officials believe Europeans will prefer using the euro rather than the U.S. dollar, which is widely accepted across the island.


 
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