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These stories were published Tuesday, July 8, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 133
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Nothing to do but wait
at missing girl's home

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The barrio of Quesada Duran is like a small village. Everyone knows everyone else. Children play in the streets, which are lined by mostly two-story multiple unit dwellings, particularly now that school is out for midterm vacation.

The people are not rich, but they would not admit to poor. 

And it was here that Katia Vanesa González Juárez vanished right off the busy street in midafternoon. That was last Friday, black Friday to the family.

The girl’s father no longer lives with her mother. But he left his current wife and two children in distant Puerto Jiménez to participate in the waiting. By all accounts he had a good relationship with his daughter, with his former wife and even with the wife’s current husband.

The father, Keller González, was polite but not very talkative Monday but he spent a lot of time staring into the street from the second-story balcony of the family apartment.

Erick Fonseca is the stepfather. He, too, said he had a good relationship with Katia, 8. He has known Olga Juárez, the mother, for four years and has lived with her for about 15 months, long enough so that the couple have a child together.

The family reports getting a number of calls about their daughter. All are false leads and some are nasty. The mother was not receiving visitors Monday, and Fonseca was fielding the many inquires from the press as the story of his missing daughter becomes headline news.

A spokesperson for investigators says the girl was intelligent, not in trouble with friends or 

Keller González
. . . waiting 
Erick Fronseca
. . . and hoping

school and gave no indication of any problems when she left her home about 2:30 p.m. Friday to walk several blocks to pick up a schoolbook at the home of a friend.

Just 10 minutes later the friend showed up at the Juárez home, and her mother knew there was trouble.

Investigators say they do not consider the close family members as suspects. And they cannot figure out how a girl can vanish on the populated streets of a busy barrio. They have searched extensively, even on the banks of the Río María Aguilar to the south.

Privately they figure the girl came in contact with someone she trusted or at least knew.

There have been several kidnappings of youngsters within the last 17 months. 

Jessica Valverde Pineda, 4, vanished near her home in Los Guidos de Desamparados in  February 2002 and has not been seen since. The son of a drug enforcement officer was kidnapped four months later on June 4. His body turned up in a lake behind a dam a week later

The boy is Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, 3, of San Miguel de Higuito in Desamparados.

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
. . . And a place where children still play
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U.S. citizen Kushner must face new fraud trial 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s top criminal court has thrown out a sentence favorable to a U.S. citizen charged with fraud and ordered a new trial.

The man is Fred Kushner, who has been charged with a complex scheme to defraud 600 million colons from the Banco de Costa Rica. That was about $2 million at the time of his arrest Jan. 8, 2001.

The Sala Tercera ordered the new trial in a decision that sustained an appeal by the Ministerio Público of what amounts to an acquittal last Oct. 14. The case will go back to the Tribunal de Juicio de San José.

Investigators claimed that Kushner imported 

merchandise but that the merchandise was overvalued. The case was handled by the Fiscalía de Delitos Económicos y Anticorrupción. Involved in the transaction were four letters of credit approved by the bank.

The question before the Sala Tercera was did the acts constitute fraud under Costa Rican law. One aspect that resulted in the Salas Tercera decision was the probability that the company doing the exportation is fictitious and only existed on paper, said a spokesman for the court.

A letter of credit is a promise by a bank to pay a seller a certain amount of money upon delivery of proof that goods have been supplied to another individual. They often are used in international commerce because banks are presumed to be better credit risks than individuals.


 
Tilarán will get
police bike patrols

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The bike cops are coming to Tilarán.

The regional office of the Fuerza Pública, the municipality and some local businesses have chipped in to provide this type of street patrol.

Six officers, all residents of the area, will be the first in the bicycle unit. Mechants have provided everything, including the bikes, helmets, clothing and other accessories. Merchants also will provide maintenance on the bikes when necessary, said an announcement.

Patrols will start next Monday with schools, parks and commercial establishments the priorities, according to Ólger Martínez, canton deputy chief. Tilarán is just south of the western end of Lake Arenal.

If the project works out well, officials are considering starting the same type of program in Cañas, Santa Cruz and Nicoya.

Bike patrols are common in San José.

Shotgun robbery
suspects arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men who police say stuck a 12-gauge shotgun in the face of a truck driver have been arrested.

Agents and Fuerza Pública officers raided a house near Pococí to make the arrests. Held were a 26-year-old man with the last names of Castillo Medina and a man with the last names of Valerín Arroyo, who is 24, said agents.

The two men stuck up the truck driver, identified by the last name of Oconitrillo and fled with 75,000 colones, some $187, police said.

Police, rioters clash
at Caracas wake

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Riot police have clashed with dozens of government supporters who tried to disrupt a wake for a cardinal once known as a frequent critic of President Hugo Chavez. 

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Monday as protesters hurled stones and firecrackers at Caracas' downtown cathedral where the body of Roman Catholic Cardinal Ignacio Velasco was lying in state. The disturbances left one officer injured. 

Cardinal Velasco died early Monday at his Caracas residence following a long illness. He was 74. The cardinal was widely known for his vocal opposition to President Chavez's leftist policies, saying they were dividing the country. 

Chavez once accused Cardinal Velasco of having sided in the past with the country's rich and powerful against the poor. President Chavez also described the Roman Catholic hierarchy as a "tumor" in the nation. 

However, Cardinal Velasco visited President Chavez when the populist leader was in custody during a brief coup in April of last year. Cardinal Velasco's body will lie in state until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's attorney general has dropped charges against 16 military officers accused of inciting a rebellion against the president.  The Attorney General's Office announced the decision Friday, saying there was insufficient evidence to try the officers in the case. 

The 16 army and navy officers were charged with rebellion in the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez in April of last year. Troops and civilian protesters loyal to Chavez helped him return to power days later.  At least four officers have received political asylum outside the country to avoid similar charges. 

Political tensions over the Chavez government have troubled Venezuela for months. Scores of people have been killed in street clashes and violence since last year's coup. 

Rebel leader facing
possible drug counts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian prosecutors have called for leaders of a leftist rebel group to face drug trafficking charges. 

Prosecutors made the decision Thursday regarding Manuel Marulanda, the founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and other guerrilla leaders. Authorities have yet to capture them. 

This is the first time authorities have decided to charge the FARC leader with drug trafficking. The rebels have long been suspected of supporting narcotics traffickers in the country's jungle regions. The Marxist group has denied any involvement in trafficking drugs such as cocaine. 

Authorities say the charges are based on accounting records gathered in a raid in 2001. The records show the FARC received five million dollars from illegal drug sales in the first three months of that year. 

The FARC has been part of a 39-year-old civil war in Colombia which also involves rightist paramilitaries and the government.  The United States has placed the rebel group on a list of terrorist organizations. 

British give warning
on Ecuadorian visits

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Britain's Foreign Office has warned British tourists to Ecuador of the threat of terrorist attacks.  The office issued a statement on its web site Friday, saying there is a "heightened general threat" from local terrorist groups. 

The statement said officials had received no specific threats against British nationals in Ecuador, but advised tourists to be vigilant in public places. 

The office has also warned against travel to Ecuador's northern region bordering Colombia, where armed Colombian groups have been found to be active. 

Buddy Ebsen dies
after long career

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Actor Buddy Ebsen has died at the age of 95. He began his career as a Broadway dancer, but is best remembered for his television roles.

He played opposite Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and costarred with America's favorite child star, Shirley Temple, in "Captain January" in 1936. 

Buddy Ebsen had been given the role the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz," but quit after he had a serious allergic reaction to the aluminum-based makeup he had to wear. The role then went to Jack Haley.

In the 1950s, Ebsen co-starred in Walt Disney's version of the story of American frontier hero Davy Crockett on television and in several movies. He was best known, however, for his later role as Jed Clampett, the Ozark Mountains patriarch who struck it rich and took his clan to the big city, in "The Beverly Hillbillies."  The show became a hit in dozens of countries.

Buddy Ebsen went on to star on television as private detective Barnaby Jones from 1973 to 1980. In later life, he took up painting and two years ago, at 93, published a novel called "Kelly's Quest," which became a bestseller.

Ebsen died Sunday at a hospital in suburban Los Angeles, after being admitted last month for an undisclosed illness. 

Newsweek employee slain

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Police here say an employee of the U.S. magazine Newsweek was found dead Friday, in the publication's downtown offices. Authorities said the employee, Alejandra Patricia Dehesa, was found in a bathroom with a knife wound in her throat.  Mexican officials gave no further details. They say an investigation is under way to determine the events surrounding Ms. Dehesa's death.
 
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U.S. public is more protectionist, surveys say
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Polling data suggests the American public's enthusiasm for new trade agreements with other nations is waning amid concerns about job losses and a sluggish economy. A group of trade experts and economists recently gathered here to discuss the trend and how America's appetite for expanding trade might be boosted. 

Celinda Lake heads a polling firm that conducts research for several major U.S. publications as well as the Democratic Party. Ms. Lake says a recent survey points to one conclusion: Americans are wary of any trade agreements that might expose them to economic risk. 

"Sixty-four percent say we [the United States] should protect jobs before we have more trade agreements," she said. "[Only] 33 percent say we should pursue more trade agreements, and there is a 'go-cautious' approach here that is quite salient with the public." 

Given a slow-growth U.S. economy, said Ms. Lake, it is no surprise that Americans are feeling vulnerable and protective of their wallets. 

"People think that their economic lives are largely out of control," she said. "And trade definitely fits into that emotion. And people think that the globalization of the economy and trade is one of the major factors leading to an out-of-control economy and a loss of control over their personal economic situation." 

If, indeed, America's collective faith in international trade is waning, it would constitute a shift of historic proportions. Since World War II, the United States has arguably been the world's leading proponent of trade, having played a major role in the creation of the former General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and its successor, the World Trade Organization. 

For decades, the United States has advocated expanded trade as a means of boosting global prosperity and drawing nations together based on mutual interest. Yet it has been 10 years since the United States completed a blockbuster trade deal, the last one being the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA. A proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas has been debated for years with little progress. A Central American Free Trade Agreement is in the works but not yet certain.

One hopeful sign for trade advocates: last year Congress granted President Bush enhanced trade negotiating authority known as "fast track." Even so, the measure passed by razor-thin margins. 

Former U.S. trade negotiator Peter Scher says trade supporters, himself included, are partly to blame 

for what he sees as an increasing reluctance to expose the United States to foreign economic competition. 

"Each time we have gone to Congress to sell the benefits of a trade agreement [look for congressional support], we talk about all the benefits and we do not want to talk about the downside [negative impact]. And there is a downside," he said. "The fact is that greater competition means that some sectors and some industries will not compete as effectively, that some people will be forced to relocate [look for new jobs]." 

Economic theory has long held that there are clear benefits to trade. The idea goes like this: if country "A" can produce corn more efficiently than country "B", while country "B" can manufacture cars more efficiently than country "A", it makes sense for both countries to specialize in the sectors where they enjoy a comparative advantage and trade for each other's goods. That way, consumers in both countries get corn and cars at the lowest prices. 

Gary Litman, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, says the bottom line is that trade spurs economic growth and boosts living standards. 

"Trade creates jobs. We [Americans] are not in the business of protecting jobs. We are in the business of creating jobs," he said. "Our largest trading partners are Canada and the European Union, which dwarfs any trade we have with low-wage markets. We buy a lot of sophisticated stuff and we sell a lot of sophisticated products. The United States is the largest exporter in the world." 

But Litman admits that the benefits of trade tend to be generalized while the costs are not. 

Returning to cars and corn, if a country imports low-cost agricultural goods while specializing in automobile production, its farmers will suffer as a result of foreign competition. 

A University of California at Santa Cruz economics professor, Lori Kletzer, puts it this way. 

"Increasing imports actually play a fairly small role in aggregate job losses, but there will be a narrow, but significant, and highly visible band of industries, workers, and communities for whom import-competing job loss is very real and very costly," she said. 

Kletzer said that the United States must do more to provide a safety net for those displaced by foreign competition if the public is to embrace new trade accords. She adds that, during prosperous times, it is easier for displaced workers to find new jobs, and that America's attitude towards trade might improve if economic growth accelerates in the months and years to come. 

Caribbean nations move toward more integration
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — Caribbean leaders from 15 states have wrapped up a four-day summit here that marked the 30th anniversary of the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM. The leaders agreed to take steps to improve economic integration in the region.

Meeting in this resort city, the leaders agreed to form a commission to oversee the planned Caribbean Single Market, a European Union-style economic trading block set to take effect in 2005.

Padgett de Freitas, editor of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, says the decision is significant, because it is one of the few instances in the 30-year history of CARICOM, that Caribbean leaders have been willing to cede economic decision making to an independent authority.

"The issue now is how do you implement decisions? And that was perhaps the most fundamental decision taken in Montego Bay was for the creation of a commission of some form to which CARICOM will devolve some executive authority," he said. "The model being looked at is the European Commission in Brussels. But the issue being looked at now is how do you do that and not undermine the notion of a grouping of sovereign nations."

Caribbean nations are also scheduled to join the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005 and several regional leaders have called for that deadline to be pushed back, citing the difficulties small economies in the Caribbean could have adjusting to a hemispheric-wide free trade zone. 

CARICOM leaders met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and asked for a phase-in period to allow their economies time to adjust to the free trade agreement. U.S. officials say they will consider the request but the 2005 deadline to join the free trade area will remain in effect.

CARICOM leaders also agreed to finalize steps to create a new Caribbean Court of Justice to hear final appeals in both civil and criminal cases, including death penalty cases, now adjudicated by the Privy Council in London. 

CARICOM leaders also moved to try to defuse tensions in Haiti by agreeing to send a representative to Port-au-Prince with a six-month mandate to mediate an agreement for new elections. 

Haiti's president and opposition members in parliament have been deadlocked for three years over the composition of a new parliament, following disputed elections three years ago. 


 
 
Fox facing a rough time with divided congress
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Official, partial results from Sunday's midterm election in Mexico indicate a clear setback for President Vicente Fox and his National Action Party, known as the PAN. In order to get anything through the new Congress, Fox will now have to bargain with the party he removed from power three years ago, The Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. 

The best hope of President Fox and PAN leaders had been to win a simple majority in the House of Deputies, all 500 members of which were replaced in this election. Instead, the PAN lost ground and the future of the Fox program seems ever more clouded.

Based on preliminary results, the head of Mexico's independent Federal Electoral Institute, Jose Woldenberg, says the new Congress, which goes into session in September, will remain deeply divided.

He says the PAN will have between 148 and 158 deputies in the lower house of the legislature. The PAN has 207 seats in the current assembly. Woldenberg says the PRI will have between 222 and 227 deputies, up slightly from the current 202. The left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, gained the most in the balloting. It will have between 93 and 100 seats, as opposed to its current 54.

The PRD was part of a coalition with smaller 

parties in the year 2000 election and had to share seats in the Congress with them. In this election, the party ran its candidates alone. In Mexico, a large number of seats in the Congress are apportioned to the parties based on the overall percentage won in the election. 

Next-day analysis of the election results ranged from pronouncements of disaster for the Fox government to suggestions of how the president might learn to negotiate more effectively to get his reform proposals approved. Commentator Denise Dresser says President Fox is likely to spend the next three years as a ceremonial figurehead with no hope of advancing a program. Other analysts, however, say Fox may still be able to salvage some parts of his agenda by reaching out to the PRI, the PRD, and smaller parties to find consensus.

International financial experts say such an effort will be necessary in order to accomplish reform in the energy sector as well as in areas such as labor and the tax system. Without those reforms, they say, Mexico is likely to have its credit profile lowered. 

Mexico is already losing jobs to China and other Asian nations with lower wages, guaranteed energy supplies and fewer regulations. With more than 40 percent of its population below the poverty line and several million of its citizens living illegally in the United States in order to find work, analysts say Mexico cannot afford to wait until the next presidential election, in July, 2006, to solve its urgent problems.


 
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