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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 5, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 132
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica photo
The water balloon toss was one way to beat the heat at the July 4 picnic
July 4th 'solidarity' turnout was a record
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A record crowd of U.S. citizens and families showed up Thursday for the traditional July 4th celebration.

By mid-morning James Fendell, chairman of the American Colony Committee, estimated the crowd at 5,000 persons. But he said that organizers will have to check hot dog and beer consumption before making a final estimate. He expected more to come, and they did.

The turnout was higher, he said, in part because U.S. citizens here sought to show solidarity with the United States at a time of international danger. He said attendees always wore patriotic garb to the event but that this year he has seen more pins and other personal displays of patriotism.

The event was at the Cerveceria Costa Rica facility in Alajuela, and the cars of guests far outstripped the capacity of the available parking. Vehicles were lined up more than a half mile down the General Cañas Autopista.

The annual event is free to U.S. citizens and family. Support comes from contributions. The committee has been putting it on since 1961.

Formalities were held to a minimum. The principal speaker, John Danilovich, U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, was the only one with a blazer and tie. He read the July 4 message issue by U.S. President George Bush 

More July 4th photos

and then told the crowd that "each of us has a duty . . . to represent our country overseas."

The U.S. Marine color guard was the center of attention for an emotional flag raising while the University of Costa Rica Symphonic Band played both the national anthem of Costa Rica and that of the United States. Passenger jets from nearby Juan Santamaría Airport gave the impression of a flyover twice at key moments. The crowd recited the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.

For adults the key attractions were free beer and free hot dogs. The committee served thousands of hot dogs. For children, the attractions were games, hot dogs and a chance to mount a mechanical bull. 

Not far from everyoneís mind were events in New York and Washington Sept. 11. In fact, some of the attendees had not joined together like this since a memorial service Sept, 18 for the victims of the terrorist attacks.

The picnic was held under a worldwide warning issued by the U.S. State Department about possible unspecified dangers from terrorists. Security involved bag searches, and each visitor presented a U.S. passport. Fuerza Pública even brought its K-9 unit. But there were no incidents.

Normal just doesnít live here anymore
Friends have come to my rescue with sympathy, commiseration, and two
have even offered a loaner computer. So it is time to move on, get on with my life and get back to normal. However, it isnít that easy.

Within days of my own robbery, I was told of a friendís cousin who was shot four times when thieves stole his motorbike. He is now paralyzed. Then, my neighbor told me about his friend whose house was broken into over the weekend. The thieves poisoned the guard dog, cut the metal fence and broke into the house where they emptied it of all the electrical appliances. 

Children are being kidnapped and killed. A retired police official is being implicated in car theft. Enough pedestrians have been mugged on First Avenue to make it a dangerous place ó with no police around to help so far. Normal doesnít exist anymore.

The sad and frightening thing I am coming to realize is that this country, which during the 80ís was an oasis of peace in Central America, has changed. While other Central American countries were at war, this beautiful little country without an army was both safe and peaceful. It now seems as if the lawless have formed their own army. They may be disorganized, but they obviously are more than the police can handle.

Earlier there were gunshots somewhere in the neighborhood. Once, when I heard a small explosion, I knew it was just someone celebrating a birthday or a holiday with firecrackers. As I listened to that crack, I was just as certain that it was a gunshot.

The theft of my passport, of course, required a visit to the U.S. Embassy.  It is a three-hour bus ride for me to Pavas. Engrossed in my book, I missed the stop on the first bus and decided to walk along Sixth Street to catch another bus. After walking a block, I saw two homeless boys ahead of me. One was sitting on the sidewalk and the other, a tall skinny teenager, was standing, just looking at me. I immediately became frightened and decided to cross the street when a taxi came along. I hailed it and got in, hating the idea that I had now become so fearful.

At the embassy in the passport room one meets others whose passports have been stolen. Some of their stories were worse than mine. One young man had come overland from the U.S. He had no trouble in Nicaragua, 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Guatemala, or Mexico. But one day in Costa Rica and his wallet and passport were picked out of the side pocket of his jeans where he thought they were safe. He said, "They say that the embassy will help you if youíre in trouble or are robbed, that they will give you money.  Not true. They wanted $60 before I could get a passport. When I told them all my money was stolen, they told me to contact my family."

A kindly grandmother, who has been coming to Costa Rica for eight years, was there with her granddaughter. When their car overheated, the nice people who offered to help instead stole her purse. Then they evidently followed them to the house of friends where they were staying and when they all went to the OIJ to report the theft, the thieves broke into the house and emptied it of everything. When she had explained to the embassy that she had nothing, they simply told her they needed $60 to issue her a new passport. 

By now I was angry, and my anger was directed towards the embassy. My own passport, which had cost $40 to renew, was costing $60 because I had been foolish enough to get robbed. I was planning all the sarcastic and nasty things I was going to say to the consul if I ever got waited on.  But for the moment I escaped into my book. A character in the book, a Vietnamese woman was saying, "First, you must reject hate. Hate and fear on two sides of the same coin. Hate imprisons you in time . . . . Once you let go of hate, you are free of time and of the past."

I read that sentence over and over again. At the moment I thought I was more full of anger than hate, but obviously they are related. I didnít want to be trapped in the past.

When I was finally in front of the consul, I was no longer angry. I even felt a little sorry for the pretty woman on the other side of the window for all of the anger she must have to absorb.

I am just going to have to adjust to a new kind of normal.

More of Jo Stuart HERE!

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Yellow fever might be moving into urban areas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó Yellow fever, a viral disease presently confined to jungle areas of the Americas, could return to urban areas of the region, warns the Pan American Health Organization.

The organization said it had made a new appeal to member states of the agency to include vaccines against yellow fever in national immunization programs in all areas at risk of transmission. 

The agency said that all cases of yellow fever reported in the region since the 1940ís have been of the jungle form of the disease, transmitted by Haemagogus mosquitoes. However, with the rapid spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the region, the health group said there is a danger that urban yellow fever could return.

"The best way to guarantee that urban yellow fever does not return to the cities is to reduce the density of Aedes aegypti and to increase the numbers of people vaccinated in the high-risk areas," said Arias. "We have to have a good vaccination program for tourists and travelers, who move between countries and from zones where there is risk of yellow fever to zones without risk, and vice versa."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sporadic yellow fever infections in South America presently occur almost exclusively in 
forestry and agricultural workers from occupational exposure in or near forests. Most countries have regulations and requirements for yellow fever vaccination that travelers must meet prior to entering the country.

Currently, no inoculations are required for Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy says it is a good idea to check with your physician for recommendations of optional inoculations and health precautions.

However, there is growing concern by health officials over the recent outbreak of dengue fever. Although the incidence in Costa Rica remains lower than in other Central American countries, the embassy advises travelers to take special care especially when visiting jungle regions.

Dengue is transmitted by mosquito bite and there is no vaccine. Anyone planning to travel in affected areas should take steps to avoid mosquito bites. These include wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent on exposed skin, and sleeping under mosquito netting. 

International medical personnel are fighting a serious outbreak of dengue in El Salvador. They have expressed fears that the disease could spread south as far as Costa Rica.

The area along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica always has small dengue outbreaks, caused, in part by the rainy season that is helpful for mosquito production. Public health effort in Costa Rica usually are sufficient to handle the problems.

Money exchanges raided

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents of the Ministerio de Securidad Pública raided offices of a money exchanging business in San José Thursday. The firm involved is Ofinter S. A.

The company has two offices, one in the San Pedro Mall and the other in downtown San José.

The raids were carried out at the request of Canadian authorities who are investigating the movement of quantities of money from Costa Rica to Canada.

press law
marks its
100th birthday

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Miguel Sobrado, Edgar Fronseca Monge, Patricia Vega, and Julio Suñol Leal consider a question.
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the law of freedom of the press in Costa Rica.

And during the last 100 years the rights contained in the law have been elevated to the constitutional level as something that is fundamental to free thought and as an international human right.

In addition, since the creation of the law, new advances, including radio and television, have been joined by even newer developments, such as the Internet, to advance the right of information here and in the rest of the world.

In anticipation of the anniversary, a roundtable of press experts discussed the present status of the law and associated regulations affecting the press at La Nación earlier this week.

Those involved were Joaquin Vargas Gené, a journalist and lawyer; Edgar Fronseca Monge, director of the daily Al Día; Julio Suñol Leal, lawyer and journalist; Miguel Sobrado, a lawyer and journalist, and Patricia Vega, director of the Escuela de Ciencias de la Comunicación Colectiva, whose school set up the program.

The panelists agreed that the means of communication are responsible for presenting information honestly, ethically and objectively so that the recipients can form adequate opinions to confront social problems.

Vargas Gené noted that due to legislative and judicial action the 23 articles of the law have been reduced to six. And the concept of expression without prior restraint has been incorporated into the Costa Rican Constitution.

A public that is badly informed is not able to make 

the correct decisions that will address political or social issues. Liberty of expression would seem to suggest liberty of information, too, he pointed out.

Over the 100 years of the law, according to lawyer Suñol, there have been three legal reforms and the Sala IV, the constitutional court, has thrown out 12 articles that conflict with the Constitution. In addition, some fines specified in the law are obsolete, including some that provide for fines of 10 to 100 colons.

Fonseca of Al Día agreed that the law is obsolete and hoped for more modern legislation. He noted that even the most firm defenders of liberty sometimes have to confront repression. He said that happened after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States because the press there has been involved in clashes with the government and fights to keep the liberty that was won over the years and the centuries.

Sobrado said that now before the Asemblea Nacional there are 12 proposals to reform the press law. But now journalists have no guarantees and are vulnerable.

Costa Rica has laws that forbid insults to high government officials and laws that treat libel as a criminal matter. In addition, the country has a right of reply law that allows persons named in a publication to demand similar space to give their side of the story.

A reporter for La Nación and the newspaper has been convicted of insulting a man who was serving as an honorary consul in a European country. The news article was based on material in the European press. 

The newspaper is fighting for the right to report without malice which has been reported elsewhere. The case is being appealed to international bodies.

El Pueblo bar celebration ends on the wrong foot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The evening was going to be a boysí night out. Investigators from Costa Rica and from Panamá had worked hard, and now they had cracked the case. An international criminal suspect was behind bars. Time to kick back and down a few cold ones.

From here on in the story gets fuzzy. All the Judicial Investigating Organizationís subdirector would say Thursday is that in the early morning hours a dispute arose at a location in Centro Comercial el Pueblo. That's the tourist complex in north San José filled with bars, restaurants, shops and dance halls.

Involved were three agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization and two members of the Policías Técnica Panameña. 

When it was over, someone identified as a Costa Rican citizen had lost a toe, the presumed victim of a firearm discharge.

"The situation at the moment is confusing, but we guarantee the citizenry that if excessive force was

displayed by any functionary of our institution discipline will be applied rigorously. . . ," said Gerardo Láscarez Jiménez, acting director general of the police agency.

He said the events early Thursday might turn out to be a legitimate case of self defense. Láscarez also said that the organizationís internal affairs division would investigate the case. He said he would not give more information because the case was under investigation.

The reluctance to give information was in marked contrast to Wednesday when Láscarez held a press conference to report the capture of Carlos Yamil Mejía Caballero, who was wanted to answer murder charges in Panamá involving the killing of a judge and a prosecutor.

This was the case that occupied the Costa Rican and Panamanian policemen. The investigation culminated in a police raid early Wednesday that resulted in the arrest of what Láscarez said were members of a kidnap and murder-for-hire gang. Agents arrested Mejía a little while later at another location.

In the U.S., the hearts beat as one for one nation
By Yahaira Mairena
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

This Fourth of July is my first in America, and the first the Americans have seen since the terrible events of Sept. 11 when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

I already suspected that this year's Independence Day celebrations would be tinged with some fear, some nostalgia, and much American Spirit, but Denver, Colorado, where I am staying, is also suffering from a terrible drought that has compounded area fire hazards and has resulted in numerous, widespread forest fires throughout the state. Therefore, fireworks are banned throughout Colorado, except for a few displays.

Miss Mairena

As I made my way through the brightly colored food stands and porta-potties at the celebration at Progress Park, located in Littleton, a southwest Denver suburb, I wondered what the people around me thought about their country's Independence Day. I discovered that the hearts of these people beat in unison.

Everyone I talked to said that this Fourth of July is a special day for the family. The events of September 11 changed the way these people think and drove them to seek liberty inside their hearts.
Now they can see that with liberty comes fear that 

they will lose this liberty. And this year, people feel more pride in their country.

Some of these Denver citizens didn't have fireworks this year, but they enjoyed a night of family fun, music, and American pride and a feeling of nationalism, which is a big step in this nation's new relationship with itself. Most people I spoke with also said that they noticed a lot more security at this year's Fourth of July celebrations.

According to Tara, a young mother of 4-year-old Steven: "For me, it doesn't matter whether we have fireworks. It's more important to have my own family around me."

Eighty-six year old Peggy and her 58-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, said that they would miss the fireworks. "But I think it is better for the security of the children," said Peggy.

Elvira, a native Mexican who has lived in Denver for five years, said she felt that all the people she saw in her restaurant this morning looked sad.

"All is different since September 11. In my opinion, they are sad because they are concerned about the security of the nation, and second because we do not have fireworks," she said.

This night is different because Americans are focusing more on the fun they can have when they have their families around them. What is most important is that this country moves into the future as a unified nation. 

Miss Mairena is a student in Denver. She lives in San José.

Central American TV
proposed by Tovar

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How about an all-Central America television network?

That was one of the topics that Chancellor Roberto Tovar and representatives of other Central American nations discussed Thursday.

The goal would be to encourage regional integration with an interchange of cultural and artistic messages from the Central American countries, according to a statement released later by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

For the next six months, Costa Rica is president pro tem of the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana. The position rotates among member nations.

Thatís why Tovar was meeting with ambassadors and chiefs of missions of the Central American states accredited to Costa Rica. Tovar discusssed his agenda for the next six months with the diplomats, including the possible start of negotiations with the United States on George Bushís proposal for a free trade area of Central America.

Costa Rica already has agreed in principal to a regionalization of the customs process to reduce the paperwork and time in moving goods from one country to another.  The specifics have to be worked out. So this is another topic that was discussed Thursday.

Uribe visits Spain
in search of help

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MADRID, Spain --ó Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe is in Spain for a two-day visit aimed at strengthening economic ties and obtaining European aid to help his government end a 38-year civil war with leftist rebels. 

Uribe is scheduled to confer with Jose Maria Aznar, prime minister, and other top Spanish government officials Thursday in Madrid. He arrived in Spain Wednesday from France, where he held talks with President Jacques Chirac. 

The new Columbian president takes office August 7. He has pledged to crack down on the countryís outlawed rebels and paramilitary groups as a way of pushing them into peace negotiations. 

Last year, the European Union pledged $300 million to support the peace process in Colombia. The aid was to be used to help fund government programs to promote human rights and fight poverty, but not to provide any military aid to the troubled South American nation. 

The United States is providing Colombia with more than $1 billion in mainly military aid to battle drug trafficking.

U.S. fugitive nabbed
after leaving here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

American retirees arenít the only ones who flock to Costa Rica. Fugitive James Sullivan made it his hiding place for a while before finally being nabbed by law enforcement officials Monday in Thailand after almost five years on the lam.

Wanted for connection to the hired hit of his wife, Lita, in 1987, Sullivan was known to have fled the country after being indicted by a Georgia court. The murder was a contract killing in which authorities say Sullivan, 51, hired a man to shoot the victim on the front porch of her residence. At the time, the Sullivans were involved in a divorce settlement which was to go into effect the day after the murder occurred.

After his stay in Costa Rica, Sullivan traveled to Panama City and Venezuela before arriving in Thailand in June, 1998, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Following a feature on the Lita Sullivan murder on Fox television's "America's Most Wanted," the FBI received tips that Sullivan was living in Thailand.

Following weeks of surveillance, the Royal Thai Police, arrested Sullivan in the coastal community of Cha-am.

Bush might resume
Latin drug flights

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The White House says President Bush is considering a recommendation to resume U.S.-backed drug surveillance flights over Latin America.

Traveling with the President Thursday, Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, told reporters Mr. Bush has yet to make a formal decision on the matter. However, he insisted Mr. Bush wants to take "strong actions" to fight narcotics trafficking in Central and South America. 

Drug interdiction flights were suspended last year after the Peruvian military mistakenly shot down a small aircraft, killing a U.S. missionary and her baby. Fleischer said if President Bush approves the resumption of drug interdiction flights, the State Department would manage the program, taking control from the Central Intelligence Agency.

On Thursday, The New York Times newspaper quoted U.S. government sources as saying the flights could begin later this year in Colombia, and shortly after that in Peru. In April, the Bush administration approved a plan aimed at reforming the program and resuming flights within six months.

Changes would include transferring management to the State Department and requiring all U.S. pilots and crews to be fluent in Spanish. Before suspension of the program, the United States identified suspected drug smuggling planes and Colombian and Peruvian air forces decided whether to shoot them down.

Raids target spots
where drugs sold

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators staged simultaneous raids in three places in San José Wednesday to arrest six persons to face charges of selling drugs.

The raids took place in the vicinity of Plaza Gonzaléz Víquez, San Antonio de Desamparados and downtown San José, said agents.

The six persons included two Orientals and four Costa Ricans. The six had been under surveillance for some time. 

The drug deals centered on various eating places and stores, plus a house in San Antonio de Desamparados, said agents. Police confiscated 223,000 colons  (about $620), cocaine, marijuana, a teargas grenade, a clip for an AK-47 assult rifle and a 9-mm. pistol, they said.

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