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These stories were published Tuesday, June 28, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 126
Jo Stuart
About us
Montezuma man's trip more than he wanted
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drive carefully in Nicaragua.  If you get in a wreck, you may spend the night without food and water with only cockroaches and rats for company.  

That's the moral of this cautionary tale.

Peter Hallström, a Swedish national, has lived in Montezuma with his wife and three kids for a year.  Every three months, Hallström and his family must leave the country to renew their visas because he has not yet achieved residency in Costa Rica.  So last week, he loaded up the family car and drove up to Granada, Nicaragua.   

He spent three days knocking around Granada with his family.

On the fourth day, June 21, they began to leave.  Hallström drove less than a block from the hotel and stopped at a stop sign.  He said he paused, looked both ways, and proceeded.  Then, the car in front of him stopped and Hallström was forced to stop in the middle of the intersection.  A motorcyclist slammed into the side of his car, he said.

Hallström, looking to avoid any trouble, apologized to the man and offered to pay for everything.  But unfortunately for him, under Nicaraguan law, he was admitting his guilt.  The Montezuma man didn't know it then but he was about to spend 20 hours in a Nicaraguan jail cell.

Luckily, the motorcyclist only dislocated his shoulder and cut his arm.  A doctor told Hallström and the victim that in two weeks, the motorcyclist would recover, but Hallström said the man still wanted to press charges.  That's when the cops got involved.

“They hated me from the beginning,” he said.  “I have a beard and long hair, and I think they thought I was a junkie or scumbag or something.”   Actually he is a pop music composer.

Hallström was provided with a lawyer and an interpreter.  His lawyer's advice was to pay the man with the motorcycle whatever he wanted.  Hallström said he agreed. 

“I had my family with me,” he said.  “I just wanted to leave.”  So he negotiated a settlement of $800, paid the motorcyclist, and returned to the police to show that the man had dropped the charges.  

“That's when the hell started,” he said. 

Nicaraguan law is a bit complicated on such matters.  Articulo 57 of the Código Procesal Penal in Nicaragua says that if two parties involved in a court case come up with an agreement in front of a lawyer or a notary, the document must be presented to the Ministerio Público to show that both parties are in agreement. The prosecutor of the Ministerio Público then has five days to accept the agreement. 

If he or she does nothing, the agreement is

This year-old photo shows Hallström with part of his family.  Clockwise: his wife, Karen, his daughter Ebba, now 7, son, Egon, now 4, who all fought to get him out of a Nicaraguan jail.  Also in the photo is a daughter who was not on the trip.

automatically ratified, and the judge must agree.  In other cases, the prosecutor can continue to press charges.

The problem is that while all the bureaucracy is being sorted out, the defendant is jailed.  In this case, because he had inadvertently admitted guilt, Hallström was the unlucky defendant.   

“They were yelling at me, '¡Venga! ¡Venga! ¡Venga!,” he said.  They threw him in a police truck with two criminals and drove him to a holding cell.  He still had all his family's documents.  His wife managed to slip him a bottle of water before police put him in a room with no lights, no food, no water, and no toilet, he said.

Hallström started to suffer from panic attacks and began vomiting in a plastic bag.  When he finished the water in his bottle, he used it to urinate in. There were rats and cockroaches everywhere, he said. 

Meanwhile, his wife called some friends in Costa Rica, who called the Swedish Embassy in Nicaragua.  They, in turn, called Hallström at the jail.  After that, he said, the policeman's attitude changed completely.  Hallström said he understood that these phone calls caused the police to let him go. 

But according to Luis Valles Viorea, the policeman who arrested Hallström, the agreement was ratified in front of a judge the following day, and Hallström was freed.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, June 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 126

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26.3% rate hike for taxis
will be hearing topic

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An organization of taxi owners is seeking a 26.3 percent hike in fares, and the agency in charge of setting the prices for public transport plans a hearing July 7.

The organization is the Federación de Cooperatives de Taxi.

The current fare begins at 285 colons, some 60 U.S. Cents, for the first kilometer. After that, riders pay 160 per kilometer, about 34 U.S. Cents, for each additional kilometer.

In real increases taxi drivers have not had a raise in years. Increases in fuel costs and the devaluation of the colon have tended to make any official increase just enough to keep pace.

The hearing will be at 9 a.m. in the auditorium of the  Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos in Sabana Sur. However, those who wish to speak must make their desire known by Thursday by sending a fax to  290-2010, said a spokesperson for the authority.

The authority is using a new system to fix rates for public transport companies. The price of fuel is a big component.

The operators seek to bring the rate hikes into effect in three stages, each six months apart,

Florida faces a rash
of attacks by sharks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A 16-year-old boy is in stable condition after being bitten by a shark in the Gulf Coast waters of northern Florida on Monday. It was the second shark attack in the area in three days. Experts say last year's Florida hurricanes could be the reason why sharks are now closer to popular beaches in some parts of Florida.

Beaches along Florida's northern Gulf Coast were closed on Monday after the second shark attack in three days. One of three boys fishing on a sand bar at Cape San Blas was severely bitten by a shark on Monday.

The area is about 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of a beach near the city of Destin where Jamie Daigle was killed by a shark Saturday. The 14-year-old girl was visiting the area with family friends when she was attacked by what authorities say was a nearly 2-meter (6.5-foot) bull shark while swimming about 60 meters (about 195 feet) from shore.

Tom Dicus, a nearby surfer, managed to reach the girl and bring her to shore, but he says the shark's initial attack was probably too severe to survive.

"She was face down and unconscious," he said. "When I grabbed hold of her, the shark surfaced right next to her and broke off to the left, so apparently I disturbed its feeding. He circled around for another attack but by the time he got around I had her up on my surfboard."

Mr. Dicus says the shark continued to try and attack his surfboard nearly all the way to shore. He says he hit the shark several times with his bare hands before it swam away.

Experts say such aggressive behavior by sharks is extremely rare.

Authorities in the area say Monday's attack could have occurred because the boys fishing were using live bait, and were fairly far out from shore, standing on a sandbar.

At a Florida news conference on Monday, Eric Ritter, a shark expert from the New Jersey-based Shark Research Institute, said last year's Florida hurricanes could have altered sand bars in the shallow Gulf waters, allowing sharks to move closer to shore than they might previously have done.

"A changed weather system always does affect the super top predators, but it also affects the entire food chain," he said. "So, yes if you change a sand bar it directly affects the current that will bring in other sharks. We have some indication that the hurricanes from last year created some of the accidents."

Ritter says so far this year there have been at least eight incidents of sharks attacking humans in Florida. In a normal year there are roughly 30 such attacks, more than anywhere else in the United States, because of Florida's long coastline.

Special U.N. program
will study Amazon

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

With the environment of the Amazon Basin increasingly under siege from deforestation, mining, urbanization and other land use changes, the United Nations is co-sponsoring a new project to conserve and better manage the eight-nation region’s economically important waters, forests and wildlife.

Pollution hot spots and damaged habitats and ecosystems are to be identified and measures drawn up to reduce the threats and restore the damage under the scheme, which Klaus Toepfer, U.N. Environment Programme executive director says will play an important part in helping the region meet the  Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

These internationally-agreed goals cover issues such as poverty reduction and reversing the spread of diseases like malaria to the empowerment of women and the provision of safe and sufficient quantities of drinking water.

The new Amazon project, announced over the weekend in Salvador Bahia, Brazil, is being done by a handful of international agencies.The nearly two year project will cost just under $1.5 million.

The project, covering Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, will aim to coordinate the numerous but fragmented national efforts currently underway designed to better manage and conserve the basin’s natural resources. Experts are worried that climate change, linked with rising global emissions of carbon dioxide and other so called greenhouse gases, are set to aggravate the basin’s problems making it harder and harder for people and wildlife to cope.

This was graphically underlined in the severe El Nino year of 1997. The drought was so severe it led to millions of acres of forest going up in flames triggering respiratory and other health calamities.  Lagoons dried up affecting wildlife such as turtles, and the region experienced power rationing and a reduction in the transport carrying capabilities of the Amazon and its tributaries.

Some action on fuel
expected shortly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With petroleum prices beyond the $60-a-barrel mark, Costa Rican officials are expected to take some actions to limit vehicle travel.

A presidential decree is expected shortly that will mostly affect drivers in the Metropolitan area.

Officials have discussed limiting rush hour traffic to vehicles with certain digits at the end of the license plate number. The idea would be to reduce the congestion and at the same time conserve fuel.

Public employees also could be asked to come to work at 7 a.m. in order to avoid peak traffic periods.

Officials hope to encourage more people to use public transportation.

At the same time emergency work is going on at the La Uruca traffic circle and bridges on the Autopista General Cañas and the work is causing major traffic jams.

At the same time, traffic on the highways of the metropolitan area is obviously less, and  higher fuel prices have gotten the credit.
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workshop begins

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation kicked off 15 days of training for Costa Rican and  Salvadorian police on the topic of sexual

Paul  Chaves
 exploitation and the handling of victims Monday. El Salvador seeks to set up a system helping victims, said Paul Chaves, head of the Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas. Because many agents work undercover, the photo at right was from the rear.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Surprise candidate becomes the fiscal watchdog
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A person who did not participate in the selection process became the new Contralora de la República Monday night. That is the top fiscal watchdog for the government.

The individual is Rocío Aguilar Montoya, who only surfaced as a possible candidate in news reports Monday. Her close association with Óscar Arias Sánchez, the former president and current presidential candidate, is believed to have won her the job.

Mrs. Aguilar takes over the post vacated by Alex Solís, who was ousted because he falsified signatures on legal documents in his private life. The term ordinarily is for six years. The Contraloria studies and passes judgment on most contracts entered into by government agencies.

The election rejected the five candidates who had been studied and interviewed by a special commission.  Fernando Herrera Acosta, the man who had been ranked first, withdrew before the voting.

The election stoked tempers of those who were not parties to the agreement between some members of the government's Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and Arias' Partido Liberación Nacional. Humberto Arce, the Bloque Patriótico deputy who was most responsible for investigating Alex Solís, said that Mrs.
Aguilar should have been studied, particularly her activities in public service.

The 48-year-old Mrs. Aguilar has served as director of the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones in the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

The election required three rounds. Mrs. Aguilar's name was not among the candidates, and no one got the required majority of 27 votes on the first round. In the second round, Mrs. Aguilar won a surprising 24 votes. Johnny Meoño Segura and former magistrate Álvaro Fernández Silva each got nine with two other candidates with lower vote totals.

Gerardo González tried to invoke Article 202 of the assembly's rule that only allowed candidates with 10 or more votes to advance to a next round.  After a recess Gonzaléz relented and threw the voting open to anyone, including those not on the approved list.

Mrs. Aguilar received 29 votes, and Fernández got 20. A third candidate, Marta Acosta, got four votes.

Some deputies were hot after the voting. Deputy Gloria Valerín, although of the Unidad Social Cristiana party, called the deal dirty, under the table politics.

The concession council is where various government functions such as highways and management of Juan Santa María airport have been contracted to private companies.

Uribe oversees big troop buildup against rebels
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe traveled to the site of a recent attack by rebels on Colombian soldiers that left 19 dead near the Ecuadorian border. Six more died near Venezuela.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe blames intelligence failures for the recent attacks on Colombian troops by armed rebels in the oil-rich southwest region of the country. Uribe said Monday "there were intelligence failures on our part, and there was no coordination between the operations and intelligence branches."

The Colombian president traveled to the site of one of the weekend attacks to oversee the military's counteroffensive. More than 1,000 troops backed by helicopters were deployed to southern Colombia to cut off rebels trying to escape across the porous jungle border into Ecuador where forces cannot go.
Uribe said he would also hold talks with his Ecuadorian counterpart this week on ways to prevent the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, from using Ecuador as a safe haven.

FARC has been waging a war against the government for four decades, funding its operations from the sale of drugs and kidnappings for ransom. Analysts say the recent attacks are an attempt to embarrass President Uribe who is claiming his government is winning the war.

Some 3,500 people are killed every year on both sides of the conflict. The weekend death toll was the highest for Colombia's military since President Uribe came to power in 2002.

However attacks by FARC have been on the rise in recent months leaving dozens of soldiers and civilians dead.

Missles in Nicaragua called threat to whole world
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles pose a significant threat to commercial and military aviation, and have become a weapon of choice among international terrorists, says a senior U.S. diplomat.

"Since the 1970s, more than 40 commercial aircraft have been attacked with MANPADS, causing at least 24 crashes and more than 600 deaths worldwide," Ambassador Rose M. Likins, acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said Friday. The acronym stands for man-portable air defense systems.

They are lightweight and easy to transport and conceal.  Most of them are between 4 feet and 6 feet long, about 3 inches in diameter and weigh less than 55 pounds.

The most well-known missile attack occurred in November 2002, when al-Qaida terrorists attempted to shoot down a civilian airliner in Mombassa, Kenya.

Likins said the United States and the International Civil Aviation Organization have called on the international community and regional organizations to control and safeguard the shoulder-fired missiles they have in their military inventories to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.

The United States has worked closely with 13 countries to destroy their excess and obsolete missiles, which number close to 13,000, she said at a Washington Foreign Press Center briefing.  An additional 6,000 missiles have been committed for destruction within the near future.

However, Likins said that Nicaragua, which is considered among the cooperating countries and has destroyed 1,000 of its missiles, still holds about 1,000  in its inventory, posing a considerable security risk.  And the Nicaraguan National Assembly has been reluctant to destroy the remaining stockpile, she said.

"The United States government considers the large number of remaining MANPADS currently held by Nicaragua to be a serious threat, not just to the Western Hemisphere, but to the entire world," Likins said.  "Because it also offers a possible target of opportunity by terrorist groups for illicit trafficking and worldwide use."
She said that Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños assured President George Bush and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell in 2003 "that Nicaragua would destroy all of its MANPADS in order to reduce the chance that they might fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists."

Illustrating the extreme risk of holding the small missles in its inventory, Likins said that in January Nicaraguan authorities recovered an SA-7, an older type of Soviet-era missile, during a drug-trafficking sting operation, "further highlighting that these weapons in the hands of the wrong people pose a serious threat."

A law recently passed by the Nicaraguan National Assembly requires that the assembly must approve destruction of any of the country's remaining missiles. That requirement poses a serious obstacle to Nicaragua meeting its commitment to destroy its stockpile, Likins said. The assembly bill was passed as part of the continuing political conflict between Bolaños and his opponents.

"As a result of the move by the National Assembly, the United States has temporarily suspended military assistance to underscore the importance the United States places on the destruction of these MANPADS and on the promise made by President Bolaños," Likins said.  "We are committed to reinstating this assistance once the destruction of all MANPADS has taken place."

To keep the destruction of the middles on track, Likins said, the Sandinista Party and the Sandinista president of the assembly "need to accept responsibility for this grave threat to international civil aviation and do the right thing.  Namely, allow the assembly to pass legislation authorizing the Nicaraguan government to destroy the remaining MANPADS in the military's inventory."

Most of the small missles in Nicaragua's inventory were supplied during the 1980s by the former Soviet Union, she said.

Likins and Daniel W. Fisk, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said there was no discernible reason for Nicaragua to hold 1,000 missiles because there is no military threat facing the country from its neighbors or in the region.

Jo Stuart
About us
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