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(506) 223-1327             Published Thursday, June 14, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 117                E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Watch your step!

You think you have trouble with bad roads, potholes and traffic jams?

Consider this bridge and this family whose members must use it frequently. The northern zone bridge gets a lot of use because the government seems unable to repair a vehicle bridge damaged by flooding some time ago.

See story
River swinging bridge
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton

U.N.'s Ban cites poverty and crime as priorities here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Some 25 years after a landmark peace process helped end decades of conflict across Central America, the region has posted impressive gains but still faces daunting challenges that include deep income inequality and persistent crime, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary general, said Wednesday.

Speaking to a conference at U.N. Headquarters in New York on the way forward for Central America, Ban also called for more concerted efforts to help the region meet the millennium development goals — a set of anti-poverty aims — by the target date of 2015.

“The perception that democracy has still not responded to the aspirations of the region’s poor brings home to us the need to make the fight against poverty and extreme social inequality a regional priority,” he said.

The drug trade and the relatively easy access to large amounts of illicit small arms were serving to fuel crime rates, slowing economic development, he added.

“Crime scares away investors. It encourages ‘brain drain.’ And it erodes support for democracy,” he said.
Pledging the U.N.’s commitment to helping Central American governments overcome these problems, Ban stressed that regional cooperation is also vital to reducing crime and social inequality.

Wednesday's conference marked the anniversary of
Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon
the 1987 adoption of the Esquipulas II Accord, which Ban noted had “triggered a series of initiatives that enabled the region to turn the page on a long era of bitter armed conflict,” including deals ending civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador.

In his speech, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez, one of the
signatories to the Esquipulas II Accord, urged the governments of Central America to back what is known as the Costa Rica Consensus, where countries that spend less on their militaries and more on health care, the environment and education are rewarded with more development aid and debt relief. See story HERE!

The conference, "A Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America: The Pending Agenda 20 Years Later", was organized by the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 117

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Storm causes flooding
and damage in valley

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tropical storm front lived up to its name Wednesday as it swept over Costa Rica leaving slides, floods and even a small cyclone in its wake.

The storm moved in from the south after hitting Colombia and Panamá, Heavy rains arrived in the Central Valley about 3:30 to 4 p.m. Belén in Heredia suffered heavy flooding and some roads in the vicinity of the Cariari Mall were closed.

Other flooding took place near the Bridgestone Firestone plant. Homes were heavily damaged in San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados.

The cyclone hit the Manuel de Jesús Jiménez section of the city of Cartago about 4:30 p.m. and ripped metal and plastic sheets off the rooftops. A local youth took spectacular video on the event, and the segment showed up on local television. Costa Rica experiences two to three damaging cyclones a year, usually during unstable, stormy weather. The last one was in Barreal de Heredia.

There was little word on damage in the south Pacific or in the Talamanca where the nation's emergency committee said the full force of the storm front also would be felt.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias is maintaining an alert. Daniel Gallardo, emergency commission president, will be traveling along the Pacific coast through Friday inspecting storm preparedness and meeting with local officials.

Focus on family director
rejects homosexual adoptions

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Focus on the Family official came out strongly Wednesday against allowing homosexual couples to adopt a child.

She is Sixto Porras, director of the organization. She was testifying before the Comisión de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia on a proposed law that would prohibit such adoptions.

The measure was submitted by lawmaker Guyón Massey of Restauración Nacional.

"The established cultural demands and standards are predominantly monogamous heterosexuality and adoption of children by couples of the same sex would go against these," said Ms. Porras. She also said that every child has the right to be raised in a family where the masculine and feminine roles are clearly defined which contributes to the child's emotional stability.

To allow otherwise would be discrimination, she said. Ms. Porras pointed out that the Sala IV constitutional court has rejected same-sex marriage and that the Constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The commission will be calling other witnesses to testify on the measure.

High school girl dies
in Moravia murder-suicide

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man murdered his 15-year-old sister-in-law and then hung himself in the northern suburbs of Moravia Wednesday, investigators believe.

Dead is Raquel Retana, a high schooler who was found murdered in her bed in a room that showed signs of a struggle. Her body was found in a room adjacent to where  Jorge Campos, 29, is believed to have hung himself. The girl died from a knife wound to the neck, an initial examination showed.

The man's wife discovered the crime late Wednesday afternoon.

Body of missing woman
found in coffee field

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have found the body of a 19-year-old woman who vanished Monday after leaving a relative's home in San Ramón. She was identified as Stefanny Cruz of Puntarenas.

The woman traveled to San Ramón for a visit and called her mother Monday to say that she was on her way back home. She is believed to be the victim of a sexual assault.

The body turned up in a coffee plantation in Barrio Belén of San Ramón.

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Taking chances each day on a swinging suspension bridge
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The bridge is dilapidated and scary but necessary for residents who want to cross over from the pueblo of Santa Rita, district of San Carlos, into the pueblo of Bajo Rodríguez, district of San Ramón. This wood plank and cable bridge is a couple of minutes walking distance from the once-drivable bridge washed out more than a decade ago.

The cables are secured into concrete buried into the ground at each end.  The entire walking area of the suspension bridge slopes noticeably to one side. The planks also bounce up and down when residents walk across it. 

There is only one cable to grasp (and hold onto dearly) on the high side.  The worn, four-inch wood planks have several areas with gaping holes.  Residents, including children, nevertheless, use the bridge to get to the bus for San Ramón, among other reasons.

Such bridges, like this one in the northern zone, are part of life in the country and a daily burden for people far from the seats of power.

Before a flood washed it away 12 years ago, the former drivable Río Balsa bridge directly connected the roads coming to or from Santa Rita with the road coming to or from Bajo Rodríguez.  A traveler could bypass Javillos or La Tigra by driving directly from the popular tourist town of La Fortuna to Santa Rita/Bajo Rodríguez, and from there, directly to San Ramón and on to the airport in San José.

As with many of the country's suspension bridges, this one is off the beaten track and out of sight, out of mind of transportation officials. Locals cling to a rumor that a new bridge is coming "within five months." But others note that the rumor has been current for 12 years.

Around the area of the wood plank and cable-strung bridge, especially from a higher vantage point, on a clear
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Family is safe at last on the bridgehead, but the sky will be darker for the return trip.

day, the famous, mesmerizing, active Volcán Arenal can be clearly seen.  The blissfully quiet area surrounding it, from the higher vantage point, gives a 280-degree view, and a tourist can make a mental connection of the area's geography.

The Río Balsa is a kayak mecca. According to the locals, the Balsa begins as an underground mountain spring in San Ramón.  The Balsa then merges into the Río San Lorenzo River, which becomes part of the mighty Río San Carlos River.  The San Carlos flows into the Río San Juan and then into the Caribbean Sea.

Arias says isthmus countries have wasted $35 billion on military in a decade
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Óscar Arias Sánchez estimates that the countries of the isthmus have wasted $35 billion in the last decade supporting their armies.

"The fight for human development ought to become the central axis of the public politics of our countries, especially in the most poor countries and those in which violence and armed conflict have reduced the opportunities of their citizens to reach greater levels of wellbeing," said Arias in New York.

He was speaking at a United Nations seminar marking the 20th anniversary of the Central American final peace plan, engineered in part by Arias. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace as a result.

Arias was promoting his Consensus de Costa Rica. Thanks to the peace plan, the per capita income in Honduras has increased 65 percent and by 70 percent in Nicaragua, said Arias. The increase is more than double in Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, he said.

But Central America will not see peace while gangs of youth, maras, terrorize residents and while diseases, like dengue, amoebas, and malnutrition are killing the children, he said.
Arias in New York
U.N. Photo/Evan Schneider
Óscar Arias Sánchez speaks at New York conference

Some 17 million in Central America live in extreme poverty and some 40 percent will not see high school, condemning another generation to poverty, he said. This is because of the waste in military spending, he said. His consensus calls for a reduction in the military budget coupled with more spending on education and social programs along with debt reduction provided by lender nations.

Arias was to continue promoting his program, called Quixotic by the Spanish daily La Nación, in New York.

Suspect in Hospital Calderón Guardia fire that killed 19 given 50 years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A three-judge panel found a 23-year-old nurse's aide guilty of starting the Hospital Calderón Guardia fire July 12, 2005, and sentenced him to 50 years in prison Wednesday. Some 19 persons died in the fire.

The man is Juan Carlos Ledezma Sánchez. Witnesses testified that they had seen him near the storage room where the fire is presumed to have originated. The blaze swept through a surgical recovery wing and even killed two nurses as they tried to evacuate patients.

Ledezma was convicted even though fire investigators said they could not find a specific cause for the blaze. An alternate theory advanced at the time of the tragedy was
 that the ballast of a light fixture had ignited combustible material in the storeroom.

The wing where the fire took place had to be demolished.
One of the victims of the blaze never has been identified. He is believed to have been a vagrant who sought a place to sleep in the hospital.

Ledezma never testified in his own defense. He also made no statement. The trial judges ordered him held in preventative detention until the Sala III conducts a mandatory review of the case.

Calderón Guardia had been plagued by small fires until the early morning tragedy. The fire showed that the hospital did not have adequate safety measures in place.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 117

Victim of communism doesn't like idea of trade with China
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Human rights activist Harry Wu spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps for criticizing China's Communist Party.  He was released in 1979 and came to the United States.

When he returned to China in 1995, he was arrested and convicted of stealing state secrets.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was immediately expelled.   At the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. Tuesday, Wu criticized the belief that money and trade with China's government is the best way to promote democracy there.

"I think the money and technology going to China serve as a blood transfusion to a dying Communist evil," says Wu.

Tu Tranh Tran was a political prisoner in Vietnamese labor camps for 18 years under the Communist government.   He says 65,000 people died in the camps from executions, hard labor, beatings, disease and starvation.

"There were no obvious bloodbaths,” says Tran. “But
 behind the heavily guarded fences the Communists conducted the vilest and most monumental and physical torture ever designed."

Cuban Pedro Fuentes said at first he believed in Cuban President Fidel Castro and became a member of the revolutionary government.  But after he disagreed with  Castro's Soviet-backed politics he spent 18 years in a Cuban prison.

"The Cuban ex-political prisoners have been fighting for more than 40 years and we are ready to continue fighting until we see our country free," said Fuentes.

Fuentes said more than 100 million people around the world have lost their lives due to communism. 

President George Bush Tuesday dedicated a new memorial in Washington D.C. to the victims of communism.

Fuentes said the new memorial should teach people that they should fight against communism.

Strong earthquake shakes
Guatemala but hurts no one

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. seismologists say an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 has struck Guatemala.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or major damage following the 1:29 p.m. tremor Wednesday.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter of the quake was near the Pacific coast about 115 kilometers (71 miles) south southwest of Guatemala City.

There were no reports of serious damage but some homes were damaged and landslides took place in rural areas.

The quake also was felt strongly in neighboring El Salvador.
earthquake map
National Earthquake Information Center map

Two Fuerza Pública officers held involving shakedown of motorist in Alajuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Fuerza Pública officers in Alajuela have been detained to face allegations of abuse of authority.

One of the officers is Zeidy Riviera Guzmán, 40, who has nine complaints filed against her for aggravated robbery, theft, abuse of authority among others, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. The other officer is Rodolpho Avila Sánchez, 45, who faces five similar allegations.
A victim said he had been approached by two officers in Alajuela Centro March 16 and the officers made him get out of his car on the claim that he was carrying drugs, said investigators. When they left the two officers had taken a firearm, eyeglasses and 500,000 in colons, some $960.

In another case, investigators detained another officer, identified as Daniel Santamaría Arias, 26, on the allegation that he tried to charge a robbery victim money to have the stolen goods returned.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, June 14, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 117

Tiger Woods seeks to redeem himself in U.S. Open this week
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The top golfers in the world are in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, this week as the second major tournament of the year, the U.S. Open, tees off today. World golfer No. 1 Tiger Woods looks to erase memories of last year's failure, while South African Ernie Els revisits the site of his first major tournament win.

Woods did something at last year's U.S. Open that he had never done — he missed the cut in a major tournament. Woods has captured two U.S. Open titles in his career, but last year's debacle remains a blot on his record.

His uncharacteristic performance came just over a month after his father Earl died in May of 2006. This week, Tiger looks to prove that last year's result was an aberration.

To win, Woods will have to conquer a course widely regarded as the toughest layout in the United States — the par 70 Oakmont Country Club Course near Pittsburgh in the eastern state of Pennsylvania. Organizers have removed 5,000 trees from the course and lengthened it to 6,725 meters. Tiger says while the course is difficult, anyone has a chance to win.

"I just think that we are all going to see what happens on pin locations. Because they can go crazy on pin locations
and make it impossible. But if they put pins in generous spots, I think it will be a fantastic test," he said.

One man sure to be tested by the Oakmont Course is American Phil Mickelson, who has been struggling to recover from a wrist injury. Mickelson played some practice holes earlier this week with his wrist in a brace, but says he will be ready to compete.

South African Els is also looking to regain his major-winning form. The man known on the tour as "The Big Easy" has been trying to regain his game since injuring his knee and undergoing surgery two years ago.

Els has fond memories of Oakmont. He won his first major tournament there in 1994. The South African says he looks forward to the challenge of this year's layout.

Els and Woods face a star-studded international field, including defending champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, Stephen Ames of Canada, Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, former champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, Sergio Garcia of Spain and Vijay Singh of Fiji.

Other top American players include former champion Jim Furyk, Masters champion Zach Johnson and former PGA winner Davis Love III. This year's champion is scheduled to earn nearly $1.25 million.

Costa Rica's next Gold Cup opponent is México this Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

México defeated Panamá Wednesday night in Gold Cup 2007 soccer action. This means Costa Rica will face the Mexicans in the quarterfinals of the tournament Sunday at 1 p.m. in Houston.

Both México and Costa Rica finished second in their individual groups, but México has frequently dominated the Costa Ricans in previous encounters. However, Costa Rica in the past beat México on its home turf of Aztec stadium.

Costa Rica beat Guadeloupe Monday night 1-0 on a Walter Centeno goal. The team's opponent in the quarterfinal   match was not known until the outcome of the
 México-Panamá contest. The Costa Rican team arrived in Houston, Texas, Wednesday.

México managed just one score against Panamá in a hard-fought match.  Five yellow cards and two red cards were issued. Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez made several diving saves to shut out Panamá.

Meanwhile, the United States team also advanced by beating El Salvador Tuesday night, 4-0.

Unlike the preliminary competitions where each team was assured three games, the quarterfinals and subsequent contests will be sudden death. A team that loses is out of the tournament.

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