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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, June 27, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 126        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Cops helped set up triple murder, officials say
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is a dark story in which police officers are suspected of workings with hitmen to commit multiple murder.

Revelations made Monday shine an infrequent spotlight on the drug trade and the way accounts are settled in the Costa Rican underworld.

The revelations also drew a strong plea from the nation's top investigator that immigration laws be strengthened to avoid the violent spillover from the decades long Colombian civil war.

The case began with the murder of Javier Caceido Minnota. He was found dead
Feb. 26, 2005, in León Cortez in southwestern Costa Rica.  His body was burned up to destroy evidence, and he was identified only by genetic matching of DNA. He was a Colombian refugee.

According to the story laid out Monday by Jorge Rojas Vargas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, agents might not have known who killed Caceido but his four associates in crime did. Death was presumed the result of a dispute over drugs. He continued:

The associates, identified Monday as three Colombians and a Panamanian, wanted revenge. Their anger centered on three Costa Ricans: Fabian Gutierrez Campos, 17, Joan Esteban Polonio Villalta, 30, and Rodolfo Paez Mora, 26.

The three men were not the sort one brings home to Mama. They made their living dealing drugs, stealing and robbing. They also were street smart and not easy to corner and kill. So the friends of Caceido conceived a plan to trap the men and deliver them into their hands. To do so, they needed the help of policemen, Fuerza Pública officers.

They contacted a former policemen who agreed to handle the dirty work. The former policeman arranged but did not go to a meeting with the three victims at a San José parking lot. The men they were to meet supposedly were interested in buying the tools and other merchandise they had stolen. Instead, the two false buyers pulled police credentials, announced to the men that they were being arrested and placed them into handcuffs.

The two policemen had a microbus nearby in which the victims, now with garbage bags over the top of their bodies, were carried to Santa Elena de Heredia where they were turned over to their killers, the friends of  Caceido. The date was March 17, 2005.

With the two policemen whose arrests were announced today, agents have now captured eight persons they believe were involved in the murders.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública identified the two policemen. Rojas did not.

Judicial Investigating Organization file photo
A 34-year-old Colombian with ties to irregular military forces in his country is taken into custody near his home in Tibás. Faces are blurred by officials.

They are identified by the last names of  Chávez Ramírez and Ortega Xirinachs. One was a member of the crack Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas.

"Today thanks to the coordinated work between the DIE, the Ministerio Público and the fiscalía, the capture of the subjects was achieved," said  Comisario Rafael Gutiérrez, vice minister of security. His words were contained in a statement from the ministry because security ministry officials were not at the briefing given by Rojas.

Chávez, 37, lives in Moravia and began to work with the ministry in 1995. But officials said he was let go just 11 days ago because of disciplinary faults such as absences.

Ortega, 39, is from Heredia and began work with the ministry in 2002. He was still a policeman when arrested and the one who was the member of the crack unit.

The ex-policeman who arranged the fatal appointment was not identified by name. He is 32 years old and was arrested earlier in the southern part of the country. He is in jail for six months preventative detention.

A 29-year-old former policeman also is under investigation although he might not figure directly in the case of the three murdered men.  He is believed to be a member of a well-known criminal gang. He, too, was a member of the Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas. The unit has since been broken up. It specialized in arresting sex abuse fugitives and car thieves.

The three Colombians and the Panamanian, identified as the triggermen, are all under arrest, officials said.

It was Francisco Dall'Anese, the fiscal general, who issued the plea for tighter immigration. He was with Rojas and called the country a paradise for violent criminals. Among other crimes are kidnappings, which happen frequently but are not reported because the  victims are engaged in illegal activities.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 126

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BBC news, sports added
to our daily report

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica today adds news and sports summaries from the BBC.

The BBC licenses its headlines and summaries, but a reader will have to click on the link to get the full story. However, the summaries themselves provide a pretty good look at the world.

Additional news summaries will be added in the future as they become available.

The BBC has a worldwide reputation for fairness and competence, and A.M. Costa Rica continues to look for ways to slowly improve its news and advertising offerings for the benefit of the readers and merchants who count on this newspaper.

The BBC news summaries are HERE!

Annan says world is awash
with illegal small arms

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Describing the world as being “awash with small arms,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that every year an estimated $1 billion worth of these weapons are traded illicitly worldwide, exacerbating conflict, sparking refugee flows, undermining the rule of law and spawning a “culture of violence and impunity.”

In his opening address to the U.N. Small Arms Review Conference, which runs from today until July 7,  Annan said that “significant progress” had been made in dealing with the problem of illegal guns since a Programme of Action was endorsed by all Member States in 2001 — but important challenges remain.

“The problem remains grave. In a world awash with small arms, a quarter of the estimated $4 billion annual global gun trade is believed to be illicit. Small arms are easy to buy, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal. Their continued proliferation exacerbates conflict, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law and spawns a culture of violence and impunity,” he said, adding:

“The majority of people who die directly from conflicts worldwide — tens of thousands of lives lost each year — and hundreds of daily crime-related deaths can be traced to illicit small arms and light weapons. These weapons may be small, but they cause mass destruction.”

Since the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons was adopted five years ago, nearly 140 countries have reported on its implementation, while a third of all states have made efforts to collect weapons from those not legally entitled to hold them, Annan said. Other progress included increased cooperation among and within regions to stem the flow of illicit weapons across national borders.

“Clearly, much has been accomplished, and much is currently being done. Yet important challenges remain,” he said, highlighting in particular the urgent need for Member States to introduce or update legislation meeting the standards outlined in the Programme of Action.

Our reader’s opinion

Paper is off balance
with excessive negativity

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I have been reading many opinions showcased in A.M. From disgruntled types [”We Don’t Report Crime This Reader Claims”] about the crime in Costa Rica.

I  have been visiting Costa Rica for the past 12 years, and have been  there with well over a few dozen different people, and sent another dozen  or more down there to enjoy its pleasures, to include both the people and the  country’s abundant natural delights.

I recently bought some land  there with the intent of  spending even more time down there.  Not once have I, nor have any of those with me, or sent by me, experienced any negative acts toward us.  If experience is a better teacher than talk, then mine — and the multitude of others I  know who have been there as well — is a view of Costa Rica that counters what you have recently been publishing.
Certainly a blend of opinions is always necessary to  hear, but if you are looking for negativity about anywhere, it can be found.  I could tell you of many such negatives about my own hometown in North Carolina, but such would not override more coverage of its  in-balance positives as a quality place to live and enjoy, something that I don’t feel is forthcoming from your A.M. Publication concerning crime and related  negatives in Costa Rica.
If your intent is to showcase the positives [they truly exist] over a negative effect on those who wish to visit Costa Rica, then I do believe your balance of “disgruntled to delighted” editorials is out of whack.  Please feel free to pass these thoughts as a prompt to those who would enjoy the overwhelming positives that exist from visiting this beautiful country with friendly people and reasonable costs, therefore verifying their own experiences of the same.

Costa Rica has so much to offer. Please don’t sell it short.
Jim Folds
Greensboro, North Carolina
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 126

Intensive raid being planned at Del Rey and environs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law enforcement officers are about to clean up the area around the Hotel Del Rey, according to Johnny Araya, mayor of San José.

The mayor is moving against the Del Rey's general geographical area because he thinks it is one of the two spots in the city where the average Costa Rican is at risk.

Araya made his comments during an interview program on Radio Monumental Monday morning. He said a law enforcement task force would have moved already against the persons who frequent the Del Rey area except that Fernando Berrocal, the security minister, was hospitalized briefly.

He said the other danger area for Costa Ricans is on the Paseo de la Vacas in the northwest section of town. That is an area inhabited principally by persons from the Dominican Republic.

Expats and North American tourists have been complaining about the environs along Avenida 1 and Calle 9 for months. The area has been the scene of muggings and holdups, although the bulk of the crimes are not reported.

Sex tourists escort women from the Del Rey to hotels along the Pedestrian Boulevard and are vulnerable to gangs of muggers. Several readers have commented on the situation, and one said that the muggers integrate themselves into the lines of people waiting for buses until a victim comes by.
Araya said that many of those professionals who use the Del Rey as a place to arrange meetings for prostitution have false identity papers. He said they are mainly Colombians, Dominicans and Haitians. He said checking out these individuals and those vendors and others who congregate outside the hotel, nearby casinos and bars is a priority.

He said that he was to have a meeting later Monday with top police officials to plan the operation. He did not say when but sometime over the weekend is a likely time.

He was meeting with officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization, the Fuerza Pública and his own Policía Municipal. He said he also would seek help from the Dirección General de Migración to handle foreigners.

Immigration agents and police sometimes conduct raids that enter the first floor of the Del Rey where a casino, slot machines and two bars are located. Persons who do not have adequate identification are detained.

But Araya seemed to be taking about a much more intensive operation. And he specifically wanted to target the many people who hang around the street corners. Some are said to sell drugs and others are said to pimp minors.

The fact that the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, Berrocal, will be part of the operation suggests that it is not the normal Saturday night sweep.

This is a screen
shot of a fake Web site that smugglers used to give their firm repectability, according to the director of the Judicial
Investigating Organization.

A.M. Costa Rica graphic

Two major drug export rings broken up, officials say
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two criminal organizations that used Costa Rican locations to export cocaine to Europe have been broken up, law enforcement officials said Monday.

The first, a company that shipped cocaine in potted plants involved four Costa Ricans and a Colombian, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. Some 326 kilos of cocaine were confiscated, and four more persons were arrested by Dutch police. More arrests are expected in Colombia.

The second was a ring that packed cocaine into cans of palmito for shipment to Holland. Four Colombians, including one woman, and an Italian were detained in this investigation, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Officials displayed some of the 2,000 cans of palmito or hearts of palm that were confiscated. About 100 kilos of cocaine were confiscated. The drugs and the palmito was going to the Netherlands via Spain, officials said.

The operation involving the potted plants began in November 2005. A businessman with the last names of Castro Cerdas, who lives in Guácimo, was linked to the shipments, said the Policía de Control de Drogas of the ministry. He runs the companies Maravillas Tropicales del Caribe and Agrícola Palma Real. The
ornamental plants were to be shipped by boat in refrigerated containers to Rotterdam.

Also detained was an associate with the last names of Solís Peñaranda, officials said. In all, six raids were made Monday in San José, Heredia and Limón.

A Colombian with the last names of Urriago García was detained in Cuatro Reinas de Tibás as a suspect in hiding the drugs in the plants, officials said, adding that the man had a conviction for drug trafficking in 1889. Also held was a Costa Rican with the last names of  Salazar Ulate. He lives in Trinidad de Moravia.

A man with the last names of  Rodríguez Cordero was detained in  San Isidro de Heredia on suspicion of warehousing the drugs and moving the cargo by truck.
The drugs were believed to have come by sea from Colombia to Panamá where they were moved overland to Costa Rica.

The individuals who were detained in the investigation of the drugs hidden in the cans of palmito were not identified by Jorge Rojas Vargas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization. However, he did say that the individuals operated a fake company, Didusa S.A. The firm has its own Web site to give the impression that the business was involved in many other exports, including wood and furniture.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 27, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 126

Zocor patent expires,
and Merck drops cost

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The 20-year patent on the cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor expired Friday, opening the door to competition from cheaper, generic versions of the popular drug.  But some lawmakers are accusing the drug's manufacturer of undercutting the competition.

Zocor is a big money-maker — generating sales of about $4.5 billion per year for New Jersey-based drug manufacturer Merck.

Seventy one-year-old Frank Wolek, who began taking Zocor after suffering a heart attack, spends $125 a month for the life-saving medication.  "It's my most expensive drug that I take."

But now Wolek will pay considerably less. "I think it's wonderful,” he said.

And pharmaceutical analysts predict prices for Zocor could drop faster than anticipated.  Albert Rauch at the investment firm A.G. Edwards says that is because Merck is trying to keep its customers by selling Zocor for less than generic versions, such as Simvastatin.

"I think they could be very successful at keeping market share by lowering their price," said Rauch.

Some health plans, for example, will start offering their patients Zocor for about $10 a month, compared to the generic equivalent, which costs five times more. But U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, accuses Merck of undermining the generic drug industry and wants the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

"Not only will it drive the competition out of business,” said the senator, “but they will do it on drug after drug and within a few years we won't have generic drugs anymore."

But Merck, which expects to lose as much as $2 billion a year after the patent expires, says it is doing nothing wrong.  Ian Spatz is Merck's vice president for public policy. "What it is, is an attempt to compete and that is what we are doing.  It is a marketplace change and we were the only company selling Zocor until Friday.  On Friday, there are three and we need to compete."

Using generic drugs can mean big savings.  According to the latest Consumer Reports, people who need medicine to lower their cholesterol can save up to $1,800 a year by switching to generic drugs.  Merck wants to make sure its customers don't have to.

Bird flu DNA eyed
for vaccine potential

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Researchers are working on developing vaccines for bird flu before it becomes a worldwide epidemic.  The University of Massachusetts Medical School has teamed with a British drug company to come up with a potential vaccine using bird flu DNA.

Traditional flu vaccines use weakened flu viruses and take months to produce on a large scale.

The bird flu DNA vaccine could be easily duplicated and produced in large quantities.  DNA is a molecule found in a cell that contains a specific genetic blueprint.  The DNA-based vaccine would be inserted using a pressurized gun that penetrates the skin without using needles. 

So far, it appears the bird flu virus has spread only to people who handle poultry or have eaten contaminated meat.  It has killed more than 125 people worldwide, as well as large poultry flocks in Asia, Europe and Africa.  Experts fear millions of people could die in the future if the virus combines with human flu strains and produces a new strain that is highly contagious to people.

Dr. Shan Lu is with the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "Clearly the bird flu is spreading to more places. The question is when they will jump to humans.  That is the question we don't know, but we have to prepare."

Researchers are trying to figure out how the tiny organism replicates, so it can be stopped from spreading.  Waterfowl and other migratory birds can tolerate the organism, secreting it as waste into ponds, lakes and rivers.  But the virus becomes deadly to humans when it infects birds that live on land, particularly chickens.  Right now the only way to control bird flu is to slaughter diseased poultry.
BBC news and sports

Jo Stuart
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