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These stories were published Thursday, June 24, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 124
Jo Stuart
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What can cops do with juvenile bank robber?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police and the judicial system are having trouble figuring out how to handle a 13-year-old who likes to rob banks. The boy, nicknamed Chuky, is believed to be a member of a youth gang called the "Teletubbies" after the Public Broadcasting Service children’s show of the same name.

The boy most recently tried to rob a bank at Mutual Alajuela on Paseo Colón Tuesday when he grabbed money from a teller’s bag and tried to flee with 600,000 colons, nearly $1,400. Guards caught him.

Wednesday, less than a hour after being freed by a juvenile judge, the youth grabbed a cellular telephone from a lawyer downtown, police said. He was caught again.

The latest crime prompted Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, to draft a letter to the director of the nation’s child welfare agency.

The director is Rosalía Gil Fernández, and the agency is the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia. Ramos told her that the 13-year-old’s case shows the inefficiency of the penal system when dealing with minor offenders, according to a summary provided by the ministry. The Fuerza Pública under his supervision detained the boy time and again and he is set free each time, he said.

Ramos reminded Minister Gil that the government has lavished great effort for the rehabilitation of the boy. He said a vice minister, Ana Helena Chacón, saw to it that the boy was placed in the Hospital Nacional de Niños and in the Hospital Nacional Siquiátrico, a mental facility.

Ramos urged Gil and her agency to assume the paternal role of the boy and take over the effort to rehabilitate him. "Each time they place him in liberty, they are putting him in grave danger," he said of the courts. He said the ministry fears that one of the boy’s future victims will mistreat him or worse.

The boy is a resident of El Infiernillo, a notorious neighborhood in Alajuela. He has been arrested at least 17 times. Most of the crimes were violence toward persons and robbery.

As a bank robber he has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Two months ago he tried to leave a Banco Nacional after grabbing about 600,000 colons from a teller’s position. Then Friday he attempted the same crime at the central office of the Banco Popular in San José. He was turned over to his family that same day, said the ministry, but returned to cause problems at the bank on Monday.

The boy is agile and quick. He can jump easily onto bank counters and he fights furiously when caught.

RACSA says Internet traffic increased 60 percent here in 2003
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic on the Internet in Costa Rica increased 60 percent in the last year, and customers of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. are growing by an average of 50 accounts a day, the company reported Wednesday.

The internet monopoly said that Internet service has increased about 10 percent a year in each of the company’s 10 years of existence.

Internet censorship HERE!

About 600 clients use the company’s business Internet services and some 12,000 are connected via cable modem and cable television lines. The rest connect via telephone lines (140,000) or use Internet cafes or computers at work, the company said.

The latest statistics show that about 24 percent of the country’s population use the Internet regularly and that 29 percent of the homes have Internet-ready computers, said the company.

RACSA, as it is called, for the first time in its corporate life is facing competition from its parent, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. 

The parent firm is beginning to offer faster, telephone-based connections. RACSA has tried to get ready for the competition. For example, it cut cable connection rates, and now offers a budget home connection for $35 a month. Cable connections have increased 70 percent over the last year, the company reported.

Cable connections, which are not available everywhere, eliminate telephone charges for Internet users.

A budget telephone hookup allows residential users to have 24-hour access to the Internet for $15. However, these users also have to pay the telephone charges.

The company also estimated that there are about 500 Internet cafes in Costa Rica used by an estimated 650,000 persons. In all, about a million persons use the Internet on a regular basis, the firm said.

The company estimates that it has the potential of doubling its customer base to about 2 million.

In a recent International Telecommunications Union survey, Costa Rica placed 58th in the world for Internet use, the second best in Latin America, exceeded only by Chile, RACSA said in its release Wednesday.

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Our readers write

He’s not impressed
with Lugar’s advice

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Your article about "Top U.S. Senator" giving Latin America a lecture on eradicating poverty was very amusing to me. Lugar is a conservative meaning " Let keep all the money I can make off the backs of the working poor without giving them anything in return and the heck with everyone else". 

I just read an article in my local newspaper that there are 23 million in the U.S. classified as living in poverty with an average income of $624 a month. To put this in perspective the average home price in the section of the country I live, the southeast which has one of the lowest housing costs in the country, is up upwards of $150,000. It would take twice these 23 million people's income just to afford housing, let alone food clothing " HEALTHCARE" and other necessities. 

This is why I feel it laughable for anyone in US government especially a conservative such as Lugar to be preaching to Latin America on eradicating poverty. 

Jim Mason 
Monticello Ga. 
This reader thinks
our story was racist

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A thousand beggars on the street, and you pick on the one white guy. Can it get more racist than this? You don't have a clue as to what led him to eke out a living in this manner, and you don't bother to find out.  No, you just persecute him because he is white.

And to boot, you put this editorial on the front page of what you call a Costa Rica news site. Sure, it must be tough finding news to report in Costa Rica, but you cannot call yourself a journalist if you give up the search for real news and continue to plaster your opinions on the front page.

Now tell me I don't have to visit your site and read it. The fact is that — until Tico Times gets it together with their online edition (not likely in the foreseeable future) — A.M. Costa Rica is it for English-language news. And editorials on the front page. Did I mention racist?

José Canusi 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The story Mr. Canusi deplores appeared on Page 3 Wednesday. We feel that when a North American is out on the streets trying to take money under false pretenses, the situation is news. We will continue to write stories about scammers, big time and small time. Did we mention he should get a job? 

Woman locked up
after beating Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 76-year-old Hatillo 2 man beat up his 54-year-old wife Saturday, locked her in a store room and then reported her missing Wednesday, according to police. Neighbors had heard her call, and the woman was found unconscious and dehydrated in the storeroom, which is adjacent to the home near the Parque Los Diamantes in the southern San José suburb. The man was identified by the last names of Garita Molina. 

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Canadian couple targeted on bus
Even in public transportation a wary eye is needed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even on public transportation, visitors and expats can get in trouble if they let down their guard.

A Canadian couple found Wednesday that even sitting on a moving bus is no guarantee of protection from thieves.

But there are plenty of stories about taxi drivers who are not altogether honest.

The bus drama unfolded on a public bus en route from Liberia to Tamarindo on the north Pacific coast. A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization identified the couple as Nick Sheramita, 70, and his wife of Vancouver. Both are believed to be residents here.

Investigators reported that when Sheramita stood up in the bus to open a window, a nearby thief snatched his wallet from his pants pocket. In it was about $40 and 54,000 colons, some $125 at the current exchange rate. This happened on the highway near Belén.

When Sheramita realized that someone had taken his wallet, he raised the alarm and the presumed thief and two companions quickly exited the bus and grabbed a passing taxi,

Fuerza Pública officers stopped the cab in Lagunilla de Santa Cruz and detained the three men, who are being held for investigation. Under the rear seat of the taxi, officers found the wallet.

This story is unusual because it has a happy ending. Bus stations and even bus stops are places where crooks prowl.

For a time, several gangs were sticking up Heredia- and Pavas-bound buses in the evening for whatever money the driver and passengers may have had. That stopped abruptly last year when an off-duty police investigator shot dead one of the bandits. Tourist buses sometimes are targeted, and security is the responsibility of the tour operator.

Even the international Tica Bus company has had its share of attacks, mainly as a bus passed through Honduras. One Costa Rican passenger, Jorge Monge Pineda, 33, died last July 12 when bandits fired blindly at a bus whose driver refused to stop.

Another good target for bandits are chartered bus trips to Golfito. The south Pacific coastal town is a free port for visitors who stay overnight, due to special laws. Many Costa Ricans travel there by bus, purchase tax-free appliances and other expensive items and have them shipped back to the Central Valley by the many truck companies based there. Holiday travelers to Golfito with wallets loaded with cash, are tempting targets.

Of course, the Coca Cola bus station in downtown San José is notorious as a place where crooks lurk awaiting an unwary tourist. Backpacks vanish instantly.

Taxis present a special problem. Tourists are warned never to enter a taxi if anyone other than the driver already is in the vehicle. Licensed taxis frequently carry the name of a large company. The license plate should match the number painted on the yellow triangle on both doors for registered operators.

One group  of criminals had a taxi and used it to prey on female college students at Universidad Latina in San Pedro. 

A female accomplice would dismount from the cab in sight of a likely victim to give the impression that the driver was responsible. After picking up the victim, the driver would stop briefly to let confederates enter the cab and rob the victim.

A good rule for visitors is to use only licensed taxis and avoid informal, so-called pirate cabs whose drivers have never had to submit to any kind of oversight or insurance check.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes maintains a complaint office for those who believe they suffered at the hands of licensed taxi drivers.

Cyber dissidents are being targeted all over globe
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

PARIS, France — The organization Reporters Without Borders, based here, says 72 people are in prison around the world for expressing their views on the Internet. The statistic is part of the group's third report on freedom of expression on the Internet. 

Authoritarian governments like China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia rank high on the group's list of 50 countries that censor websites and routinely arrest what are now called "cyber dissidents." But the report also criticizes democracies like the United States and France for passing laws that curtail freedom of expression on the Internet in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

The report's author, Julien Pain, said it is important to draw attention to such issues because as important as the Internet has become in world communications, its problems do not get the attention they deserve. 

"We want to attract people's attention [to] the importance of this media, of the Internet, and the importance of fighting for its freedom. This is not the case at the moment because everybody will fight for press freedom, but nobody really cares about Internet freedom," he said. 

The report details the situation of 50 countries around the world and gives examples of censorship. In Cuba, for example, the report says last year at least five journalists were convicted of writing what the government calls counter-revolutionary articles for a U.S.-based website. The report says they were sentenced to prison terms of up to 27 years. 

The report also cites the cases of Iranian journalists repeatedly arrested because of their online articles, of seven Vietnamese cyber dissidents currently in prison and of 14 people arrested last November in Zimbabwe for sending out an e-mail criticizing President Robert Mugabe. 

"In dictatorships we all know that the dictators have the right to curtail the freedom of expression, so of course it started with the press, the regular 

media. But now they are trying to control the Internet very tightly," said Pain. "That's why we have noticed in the past four years this control on the Internet has been more efficient because dictators put more and more money on the table and invest more in equipment to spy and to track down cyber dissidents." 

But Pain's report also criticizes democracies. "In democracies the problem is that since Sept. 11, democracies have had to fight against terrorism, which is a goal we perfectly understand. [But] we think that it should be restricted by judges because only judges can say what can be censored, what can't be censored, what can be spied [on], [and] what person can be spied [on] and what person can't be spied [on]," he said.

The report is particularly critical of the United States, saying it has unclear procedures for determining when the government can eavesdrop on Internet use, and that this sets a bad example to the rest of the world. 

Launching its report this week, Reporters Without Borders also awarded its second Internet Freedom Prize to Chinese dissident Huang Qi, who has been in jail for four years for criticizing the Chinese government and writing about the Tiananmen Square massacre on his website. 

Report author Pain said the organization hopes the prize will help Huang Qi gain his freedom. "Last year the Tunisian who was awarded was released five months after he was awarded. This prize I think is efficient because it attracts people's attention and then the governments, they feel like they have to do something about this person," he said. 

But Pain also said Reporters Without Borders does not limit its attention to the plight of imprisoned Internet journalists. He says because the Internet allows everybody with online access to express themselves in public, a cyber dissident could be anybody who decides to share his or her views, and attracts the wrath of their government in the process.

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International experts conclude:
Fighting sex trafficking means attacking demand
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Trafficking people across international frontiers is a growing problem. Experts say the practice is motivated by two factors: demands for exploitable labor and a predatory global sex industry. 

Experts on human trafficking say no country is immune to the problem, and some of them do too little to combat it. Younger women and children are in growing demand by the sex industry, and people are crossing from one continent to the next to fill poorly paid jobs.

The co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Dorchen Leidholdt, says human trafficking is driven by the huge demand of the sex industry, and curbing the demand is key to reducing the supply.

"Demand is the weak link in the sex industry chain," Ms. Leidholdt said. "There is no question about that. Unlike the women and girls in prostitution, the men and boys who buy women and girls in prostitution have choices to make. They very often have standing in their communities, they have families, they are very responsive to that bright light exposing their activities, to stigma and shame, and if they are subjected to criminal sanctions, we are going to see demand dropping and that is going to make a big difference. It means that fewer women and girls are going to be subjected to this horrible form of slavery."

Ms. Leidholdt spoke at a recent conference at Rome's Gregorian University organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. 

She says pornography and the promotion of the sex industry have increased with advances in technology and the Internet, which makes information readily available to consumers and permits instant and nearly undetectable transactions. 

The chair of Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island, Donna Hughes, says more than half the victims trafficked internationally fall prey to the commercial sex trade. She, too, agrees enforcement must concentrate on the demand side of the human-market equation. 

"The most effective way to combat the problem is to criminalize the demand, that is to make buying a sex act a crime, that is to criminalize pimping of women, it means criminalizing brothel-keeping, criminalizing trafficking of women, the recruiting of them and bringing them into countries for prostitution. All of those activities have to be criminalized," Ms. Hughes explained.

Ms. Hughes says trafficking occurs because criminals take advantage of poverty, unemployment and a desire for better opportunities. She says the trade is flourishing 

because the criminal organizations are getting away with it and making a lot of money. 

She told the conference human trafficking could not take place without the complicity of corrupt governments.

"Corruption of government officials and police is necessary for trafficking and exploitation of large numbers of women and children," Ms. Hughes said. "In sending countries large-scale operations require collaboration of officials to obtain travel documents and facilitate the exit of women. In destination countries, corruption is an enabler for prostitution and trafficking."

Ms. Hughes says some governments' indifference to the problem contributes to the growth of demand for child pornography and prostitution. 

The United States keeps track of countries that do too little to combat human trafficking. Among the 10 worst countries are Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bangladesh, Burma, Ecuador, and Venezuela. 

In its most recent report on the subject, the State Department said several European and former Soviet republics have stepped up their efforts to curb the illicit human trade. They include Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Ms. Leidholdt says the underground nature of human trafficking makes it very difficult to get accurate numbers about just how many people are involved.

"In terms of numbers of victims, the United Nations says four million people are trafficked annually. Interpol has estimated that traffickers reap $19 billion a year. The numbers are huge and the numbers are growing," Ms. Leidholdt added.

Ms. Leidholdt says one country that must be held up as an example of how trafficking should be combated is Sweden, where in the mid-1990s officials recognized that the way to cut down on the lucrative trafficking activity is to reduce demand.

The Swedish government eliminated criminal penalties against women and girls in prostitution and improved services for their rehabilitation, while at same time imposing severe penalties on traffickers and buyers. It also carried out an intense public education campaign to inform the public about the dangers of human trafficking. 

Ms Leidholdt says the result was a dramatic drop in prostitution and a significant decline in sex trafficking. She says other countries should do the same. 

The United Nations says human trafficking is the third-largest criminal enterprise worldwide.

Brazil nears agreement to shoot down drug trafficking planes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

BRASILIA, Brazil — The U.S. ambassador to Brazil says the two countries are close to agreement on a Brazilian plan to shoot down drug traffickers' aircraft that fly over that nation's airspace. 

Ambassador Donna Hrinak said Tuesday here that U.S. and Brazilian officials have had good conversations on the subject. 

U.S. officials say they are trying to determine if 

Brazil's plan for shooting down the aircraft meets U.S. legal standards. Brazilian Defense Minister Jose Viegas has said Brazil is close to finalizing rules.

Viegas recently said there would be strict guidelines and precautions to prevent any tragic mistakes. 

Brazil is not a major source of illegal drugs, but it borders drug producing areas of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru and is a major transshipment point for cocaine bound for Europe. 

Cuba releases another ailing dissident from prison cell
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The Cuban government has released another dissident. 

Authorities Wednesday freed 62-year-old educator Roberto de Miranda for health reasons. 

He and 74 other dissidents were rounded up in March 2003. They were accused of working with and receiving money from the U.S. government to 

undermine President Fidel Castro. The activists and American officials denied the charge. 

The dissidents were later convicted and received sentences ranging from six to 28 years behind bars. 

De Miranda is the fifth prisoner to be released since last year's convictions. All five were freed for health reasons.  Cuban human rights activists say at least 300 people remain imprisoned for political reasons. 

Jo Stuart
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