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These stories were published Thursday, July 4, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 131
Jo Stuart
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Police here smash major murder-kidnap ring
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 80 policemen dressed for battle followed a barrage of pepper gas early Wednesday to arrest most of a group now accused of staging its own crime wave.

A few hours later police got the alleged leader of the group, an international fugitive sought to face charges in the murder of a judge and a prosecutor in Panamá.

Investigators said that the six arrests ended a wave of murders and kidnappings.

On Friday the acting head of the Judicial Investigating Organization warned residents that a physician had been kidnapped in Escazú by men pretending to be police officers. The official, Gerardo Láscarez Jiménez, subdirector general of the judicial agency, said more such crimes might take place.

Wednesday Láscarez held a press conference to tell newspeople about the successful raid. He also said that the murder of a Pavas man, found Tuesday, was the work of the same gang.

He said the arrested individuals, five men and a women,  were all from Panamá with the exception of one person from El Salvador. He attributed two other murders, assaults and other serious crimes to the group. Láscarez characterized them as hired killers.

The latest murder took place earlier this week after gunmen abducted Luis Gilberto López Flores, 41, from his home in Villa Esperanza de Pavas Monday about 4:30 p.m. The next morning the man’s body turned up in a finca in San Luis de  Santo Domingo de Heredia with two bullets in the back of the head.

Police began working on the theory that López met his death due to a dispute involving drugs and that the execution was carried out by 

hired guns. But police also pieced together clues from the abduction of the medical doctor. While investigating, police learned the kidnappers had Panamanian accents, Láscarez said. 

Men pretending to be police pulled the 

Gerardo Láscarez
physician over last Thursday about 11 p.m. He went free about four hours later after, according to sources, his family paid a ransom of $12,000 and $10,000 in jewelry.

Láscarez, as is the custom here, identified the arrested individuals by their last names and ages: Perigont, 20; Villasanta, 27; Aguilar, 22; Rojas, 42, and Ortega, 22. 

The alleged leader is fully identified as Carlos Yamil Mejía Caballero, 28. Aguilar is from El 

Salvador. The others are from Panamá.

The early morning raid took place at Condominios Doña Alicia in San Rafael Arriba de Desamparados, where police used the pepper gas to prevent any resistance. At the condominium they found weapons, jewels and $3,000 in cash.

Neighbors were treated for exposure to the gas by emergency personnel who participated in the raid. Later investigators raided a home in Paso Ancho.

Láscarez said police had been investigating some of the crimes for five months although some of the Panamanians only had been in the country for two months.

For Indians in Costa Rica, July 4 has different meaning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

July 4 may be Independence Day in the United States, but the Indians of Costa Rica are celebrating another freedom fighter today.

The Centro para el Desarrollo Indígna has organized a commemoration of the 292nd anniversary of the execution of Pablo Presbere, a Talamancan Indian who fought the Spanish until he was captured.

The commemoration will be at the Asociación 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Uncle Sam hands out U.S. flags this morning at the traditional San José July 4 celebration where upwards of 5,000 Americans and their families attended at the Cerveceria Costa Rica facility in Alajuela. 
Regional Indígena del Dikes in Buenos Aires dePuntarenas in southern Costa Rica.

Some 60 North Americans, other students and groups of Costa Rican Indians will be at the commemoration, according to the center. The center calls Presbere the defender of liberty of the Indigenous people in Costa Rica, a title to which the Asemblea Nacional agreed in 1997.

The center gave this historical account in a message Wednesday: 

Talamanca is one of the few areas of the Americas not conquered by invading Europeans. The Spanish arrived in 1540, but by 1699 they still were trying to figure out how to subdue the Indians of southeastern Costa Rica near what is today the border with Panamá.

The Spanish hit on the idea also used later against the Cherokees in the United States. They began to shift populations of Indians from the Sixaola area to the Pacific coast along the banks of what is called today the Térraba River. The populations movement was to reduce the numbers of Bri Bri and Cabécare.

At this time the Indians named Presbere high chief, and he began organizing the Indians for war.

In 1709 Indians put to death two priests, 10 solders and a Spanish woman. The Spanish, based in Guatemala, retaliated the next year by sending 80 soldiers to pacify the area. Some 505 prisoners were captured and brought to Cartago, then the administrative center. Among the captured was Presbere, who faced trial and was executed by the garrote on July 4 of that year.

When Costa Rica won its independence in 1821, the Spanish still had not conquered the Talamanca area.

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About 4,600 young people here have HIV/AIDS
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and reports from the wire

NEW YORK, N.Y. — As many as 1,400 females and 3,200 males ages 15 through 24 are living with HIV/AIDS in Costa Rica, according to latest data released Wednesday by the United Nations.

The report, "Young People and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in Crisis," estimates that 6,000 young people worldwide are newly infected with HIV every day, according to a press release, and urges expansion of prevention and education campaigns.

Based on surveys conducted in 60 countries, the report compiled by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the U.N. Children's Fund and the World Health Organization finds that understanding of HIV/AIDS transmission and means of protection is as low as 20 percent in the youth population of some countries.

The U.N. agencies authoring the report call for new political commitment to increase the effort to fight HIV/AIDS in the 15 to 24 age group. "In every country where HIV transmission has been reduced, it has been among young people that the most spectacular reductions have occurred," said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS.

The report says special efforts are needed to reach especially vulnerable young people, such as 

injecting drug users and commercial sex workers. The report stresses that young people are at the center of the HIV/AIDS epidemic: They are both the hardest hit by the disease and also the key to overcoming it. Yet despite this, strategies for responding to the epidemic generally disregard young people.

"Young People and HIV/AIDS" was released just days before a major international meeting on the epidemic convenes in Barcelona, Spain Sunday.

According to statistical data from the Pan American Health Organization Web site, the first known cases of AIDS in Costa Rica, in the first half of the 1980s, occurred in hemophiliacs. In 1985, cases began to be recorded in homosexuals, and in the 1990’s heterosexual transmission emerged, with a growing trend in recent years, it said.

While studies suggest that the epidemic in Costa Rica almost entirely centers around men who have sex with men, this may reflect that most cases go unreported due to the cultural implications.

The studies also do not take into account the migration of sex workers from other Latin countries. For example, Dominican woman makeup a substantial percentage of those involved in prostitution here, and that country has about a 3 percent rate of AIDS among persons so employed, according to previous studies.

Two ex-presidents on bribery e-mails from U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two former presidents top the list of Costa Rican officials implicated by reference in the U.S. bribery case of Robert Richard King and his company’s plan for a massive port development on the Caribbean coast.

Casa Presidential made public the list of 15 Wednesday. But Rina Contreras, minister to the presidencia, and the Costa Rican ambassador to the United States Jaime Daremblum, quickly told reporters that no Costa Rican had been bribed in the case.

Tuesday, U.S. Justice Department officials sent Daremblum copies of two e-mails exchanged by Pablo Barquero Hernández, a Costa Rican, and Richard Halford, who is involved in the U.S. end of the case. The e-mails contained the names. Included were the names of Rafael Ángel Calderón and José María Figueres, two former presidents. The 13 others made up a "Who’s Who" of Costa Rican politics.

"At no time during the case was it established that money was paid or that these persons were contacted," said Minister Contreras.

Daremblum told a Kansas City reporter earlier that there were no bribes and that the principals in the U.S. company made up the story to fleece investors.

The bribery case is in U.S. District Court in Kansas City and is complex.  Last week a U.S. federal jury convicted King of conspiracy and involvement in the plan to bribe Costa Rican officials in order to win his company a big port concession on the Caribbean. Such bribes are illegal under U.S. law.

Barquero Hernández also was indicted in the case, 

but he remains a fugitive in Costa Rica. The case centers around a plan by King and Owl Securities & Investment of Kansas City to develop a major port facility on Costa Rica’s Caribbean. The former president of Owl, Stephen Kingsley, secretly taped a number of conversations with King that were used at the trial. Kingsley, himself, was found dead last year floating in the Missouri River.

The U.S. government said that King and others paid up to $350,000 to Costa Rican officials and had plans to pay $1.5 million more in bribes to expedite the plan. 

King did not testify at the trial, but an FBI special agent, Robert Herndon, testified that an examination of the financial records of Owl showed that the $350,000 had been paid. He did not name the Costa Rican officials who were supposed to have gotten the money.

The other names on the U.S. list were: José Rossi, José Salazar, Rodolfo Méndez Mata, Olman Elizondo, Walter Céspedes, Walter Robinson, Jocelyn Swayers, Max Koberg, Juan Ramón Rivera, Sergio Navas, Antonio Burgués, Juan F. Montealegre and Enrique Montealegre.

Minster Contreras said it was very important not to damage the reputations of these people because no wrongdoing has been shown. 

The case is not over because King was convicted on four counts of bribery. That means the U.S. government successfully argued to the jury that bribes were paid. Typically, federal indictments in such cases contain dates, names and supporting information. In addition, prosecutors usually present testimonial evidence of the bribes being paid. However, that material has not been available in Costa Rica.

White House photo 
   Need a fireworks fix? This is last year’s 
   show, but a similar July 4th barrage will 
   dominat the National Mall in Washington, 
   D.C. tonight and will be available via
   streaming video from the White House
   Web site.

White House urges
caution, calm today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House is urging all Americans to join in the celebration of the Independence Day holiday, despite concerns that have led to a heightened security presence for the Fourth of July. President Bush will spend part of the holiday visiting a small town in the state of West Virginia.

This will be an Independence Day unlike any other. There will be fireworks in the skies over many towns and cities. There will also be combat air patrols.

Almost 10 months after the terrorist attacks on the United States, the American people are celebrating the nation's birthday, a holiday marked by large crowds and patriotic fervor.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer emphasizes it just makes sense to increase security on this most American of holidays.

"The government does not have any specific information about any threats of a specific nature," he said. "But what we do have is a generalized sense of awareness there are terrorists who desire to hit and to strike the United States particularly well attended, populated events."

Fleischer noted the government is taking the same sort of precautions taken during the Salt Lake City Olympics, only on a national scale. He said, "The law enforcement community, the FBI, the federal government are joining together to take precautions around the country to help protect American citizens from any kind of generalized threat that we may think has potential."

The continual combat air patrols over New York and Washington that were halted a few months ago are being resumed for the Fourth of July, and expanded to other areas. There will be a much higher police and FBI presence during the holiday. And at the White House, the Homeland Security Council will monitor about 2,000 events across the country.

The message from the Bush Administration to the American people is clear: let law enforcement do the worrying and watching, while you enjoy the holiday. "We don't let the terrorists win by canceling America's holidays," said Fleischer.

Water off in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be no midday showers in Heredia despite the heat at least until July 13. The water company will be cuting service at 10 a.m. for four hours each day through July 12 to make repairs, it said Wednesday. Outages started Wednesday.

Quake hits Nicoya

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake with 4.2 magnitude on the Richter Scale stuck near the Pacific Coast of the Nicoya Peninsula about 10:49 p.m. Monday. 

The activity was about 33 kms. deep (about 20 miles), according to the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center. The coordinates supplied by the center placed the quake under the coast town of San Juanillo.

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Uncle Pierre wants
you, Jean Claude 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PARIS, France — The government of Quebec has launched a new promotion campaign to encourage French speakers to move to the Canadian province. The prime target of the campaign is France.

Some 400 years ago, the Canadian province of Quebec, then called New France, was part of France's overseas colonies. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain visited New France regularly and was a strong proponent of French immigration to North America. 

Today, Quebec is part of Canada. But once again, the francophone province is encouraging French to immigrate — both to preserve the province's francophone heritage and to boost its low population.

Manon Boucher heads Quebec's immigration program in France and says Quebec's government wants to almost double the number of French immigrants, to 6,000 this year. "It is important for us not to lose our language," she said. "So in the selection of people who are coming to Quebec, it is an important item to speak French. English-speaking people can come, and other languages can come. But France is the most important country with French-speaking people, so it is normal for us to do our promotion here."

The province is particularly looking for young people, between the ages of 20 to 35. Immigration officials are encouraging those with special skills, such as biotechnology and aeronautics, to apply. Quebec has launched special immigration information sessions, both in France and in other foreign countries.

At a packed session this week in Paris, participants offered many reasons why they were interested in moving to Quebec. 

David Franck, a French notary public, said he was Jewish, and was worried about recent attacks on Jews in France. He said things might be different in Quebec. "Perhaps the attitude of the government about the problem of Israelis is not the same as France," he said.

Another possible immigrant, Jean-Pierre Kapuku, who is a financial adviser in Paris, said he believed Quebec offered better opportunities for children.

Kapuku, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has a dozen children. Because they speak French, he said, they should have no trouble assimilating to their new Canadian home. 

Casa Alianza helps
Chile bust pedophiles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza said Wednesday that it helped dismantle a ring of pedophiles in Chile based on information generated in Costa Rica.

The organization that is an advocate for children said that more than a year ago it presented evidence of an Internet child pornography ring to Chilean authorities here for the benefit of police in Chile.

The men communicated via e-mail, and investigation showed that they had incriminating photos in their possession and with their e-mails.

However, said Casa Alianza, the Chilean authorities were not aggressive in the case and it was not until Interpol, the international police organization and Channel 13 television in Chile took an interest that five of six men in the ring were arrested.

In addition to using the Internet, the men would have sexual relations with young boys, mostly after drugging the youngsters.

In addition, according to Casa Alianza, the arrests also resulted in the detention of three U.S. citizens who face a number of charges related to child abuse there.

The Chilean televsion station ran a major story on the ring Tuesday night.  That material can be found at: www.canal13.cl.

Castro says boatlift
is just a Miami rumor

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba has denied rumors it plans to allow a massive boatlift of illegal immigrants to the United States today, the U.S. Independence Day holiday. 

Officials also warn that anyone caught trying to ferry Cubans to the U.S. mainland will be prosecuted and charged with migrant smuggling. Officials in Havana issued the warning Wednesday, saying no Cuban will be allowed to leave the Communist island illegally. 

It has been rumored that starting today, private boats would start arriving from Florida and wait outside Cuba's territorial waters to pick up people who want to leave. The government of President Fidel Castro blames Florida's Cuban exile community for starting the rumors, calling them vulgar provocations. 

Reports say the rumors began circulating last week after President Castro accused the Bush Administration of interfering in Cuba's internal affairs and threatened to close the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Castro also threatened to annul bilateral migration agreements that regulate the passage of Cubans to the United States. 

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