Your daily English-language news
Missing schoolgirl found dead in nearby home
The disappearance of Katia Vanesa González Juárez has gained the media spotlight and has prompted discussions of child stealing and sexual slavery.
Chances are, however, that when this crime is solved, the answer will
be found in the Barrio Quesada Duran neigborhood where the girl was walking
Friday. The chances are very good that those who abducted the girl, if
that is what happened, are Costa Rican.
But North Americans are quickly seen as the bad guys in such cases.
The high drama of a child-stealing ring captures the public mind. But many more dangers confront youngsters than an organized effort. Such criminals in Costa Rica would starve to death considering the very few missing children reported in the last two years. The girl is the third.
There was a child-stealing panic in the United States around 1984 and 1985. Some authors suggested that 2.5 million children were stolen each year. And that 50,000 more were kidnapped by strangers. Panicked parents were having their children fingerprinted. Young faces appeared on milk cartons.
Two reporters decided to find out exactly what were the numbers. They added up the FBI monthly reports of missing children. But then they subtracted the number found. The reporters Lou Kilzer and Diana Griego reported that 94 or 95 percent of the missing children were runaways and that very few actually were stolen by strangers.
The estimates now in the United States are that about 1,000 children were missing each year. That does not count the many who are victims of parental abductions.
For their work, the two reporters and their newspaper, The Denver Post, won a Pulitzer Prize for public service.
There is no coincidence that the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the government child welfare agency, issued a release Monday suggesting that parents fingerprint their children and take photos and DNA samples. The Patronato attributed this
|advice to the Center for Missing
and Exploited Children.
The Patronato issued another release Wednesday expressing concern that the Sala IV constitutional court had nullified two laws that regulated private adoptions. One law would have required national adoption officials to determine that there was no possibility that a young person could be placed with a Costa Rican family before allowing a foreigner to adopt the child.
Casa Alianza checked in with a release, too, and said it fears that the legal vacuum left by the annulment decision will permit people to profit from the commercial sale of babies for adoption — precisely the outcome which the annulled laws were designed to prevent.
"It is not appropriate for Costa Rica, and much less for children, that the commercial trade of babies be permitted. In Guatemala, one of the most successful, non-traditional export products has been the sale of children. There are people asking for USD $20,000 to arrange an adoption", said Bruce Harris, regional director of Casa Alianza programs for Latin America, according to the release.
Baby-trafficking organizations steal children from hospitals or from their mother's arms on the streets of Guatemala, said the release.
Left unsaid is that most of the babies who are adopted in a private, commercial dealing are bound for the United States or other First World country. A Family that pays $20,000 in adoption fees probably will provide a good home.
Casa Alianza was quick to release a report that a U.S. citizen, 75, has been convicted in Nicaragua of having sex with a 13-year-old girl who lived with him. The man, identified by Casa Alianaza as Wildman Roy Adrian, had been in Nicaragua since December, but had visited Costa Rica seven times previously.
The Patronado also made certain that photos and descriptions of missing Katia González were distributed in the United States, even though there is not a clue as to what happened to her. Meanwhile, the Judicial Investigating Organization has established these numbers to help in the search for the girl: 295-3574, 295-3575, 295-3311 and 295-3639. The last two are 24-hour numbers. The girl’s photo is HERE!
|Costa Rica is down there among the storms, just below and slightly to the right of the photo's center. A big, red storm cell is directly over the northern Pacific beaches in Guanacaste. Meanwhile, the center of the tropical storm is well out in the Caribbean.||
Instituto Meteorológico Nacional photo
The long arm of Tropical Storm Claudette reaches far from its center in the Caribbean to well into the Pacific west of Costa Rica.
And that’s why forecasters predict heavy rains today and tomorrow, even though the country is well out of the track of the storm.
Meanwhile, wire services said that Jamaica's government was warning residents in flood-prone areas to be alert as the storm rages off the island's south coast with 100-km.-per-hour winds. (60 mph.)
At last report, the third storm of this year's Atlantic hurricane season was 225 miles (375 kms) southwest of the capital, Kingston, moving to the west at 24 mph (39 kph) Claudette was expected to make a gradual turn toward the west-northwest at a slower speed today.
Both Jamaica and Grand Cayman are under tropical storm warnings, while a tropical storm watch
|remains in effect for Little Cayman
and Cayman Brac. Elsewhere, the Mexican government has issued a tropical
storm warning for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. A hurricane
watch is in effect from Chetumal to Cabo Catoche in case the storm intensifies.
The storm’s name already has a spot in weather history. A July 1979 ramage by that year’s Claudette caused losses of $500 million in Texas.
One problem for Costa Rica is the disruption in ocean travel. Royal Caribbean International rerouted three of its cruise ships Wednesday, although none was headed to Limón.
Another problem is the perpetual slides typical of heavy rains. The Orosí region is just getting over three days of problems caused by downpours Monday. The rough landscape of Costa Rica usually generates slides and road closures.
A heavy cell spawned by the tropical storm was over the north Pacific beaches in Guancaste Wednesday evening.
|Inmate work benefits
nation’s school kids
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Inmates at four Costa Rican prisons are building desks and chairs for school children in exchange for reductions of their sentences.
The Ministrio de Justicia and the Ministerio de Educación Pública said Wednesday that during the first six months of the year about 11,143 desks were constructed. These are of tubular steel , wood and formica.
The institutions involved are those in San Carlos, Limón and Pococí and La Reforma in the Central Valley. In all, the inmates will build about 34,500 sets of desks and chairs this year, said the announcement. Sizes include smaller desks for kindergarten.
Patricia Vega, minister of Justicia, said that the project also keeps
the inmates occupied, an important consideration for prison management.
This trio knows
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Three students from Costa Rica will go to the United States Friday to particpate In the World Olympics of Geography.
They are Kevin Leandro of the Liceo Samuel Sáenz, Carlos Granados of the Liceo Emma Gamboa and David Pérez of the Bilingüe José Figueres Ferrer.
The trio will be sworn in today as cultural ambassadors at the Ministro
de Educación Pública. The event is sponsored by National
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Nestor Kirchner is reportedly considering changing the country's extradition laws so that former military officers implicated in human rights violations can be sent abroad for trial.
The Argentine daily newspaper Clarin reported in its Wednesday edition that President Kirchner is considering passing a decree to annul the current law. Government officials did not immediately comment on the story.
The report comes one day after Spanish investigating judge Baltasar Garzon reissued an arrest warrant for 46 former Argentine military officers linked to human rights abuses during Argentina's 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship.
Among the 46 named are former Gen. Jorge Videla, who was the first junta-backed president, and former navy chief Emilio Massera. Charges against the former officers include genocide, torture and terrorism.
The accusations stemmed from the judge's investigation into the deaths
or disappearances of hundreds of Spanish citizens during the dictatorship.
Some human rights groups say as many as 30,000 people vanished or died
during Argentina's so-called "dirty war" against leftists and other political
opponents of the dictatorship.
Cartel leaders hit
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — U.S. authorities say three brothers accused of leading one of Mexico's most violent drug gangs, the Arellano Felix cartel, have been indicted on narcotics-related charges.
Attorney General John Ashcroft made the announcement Tuesday here. Ashcroft's Mexican counterpart, Rafael Macedo de la Concha was by his side.
One indictment names Benjamin Arellano Felix, two of his brothers and eight other associates from the drug cartel. The indictment accuses them of conspiracy to import and distribute drugs, money laundering and other offenses. A second indictment charges cartel associate Gustavo Rivera-Martinez with aiding and abetting drug trafficking.
Benjamin Arellano Felix is in custody after being captured in central
Mexico last year. Another brother, Ramon, was fatally shot by police a
few weeks earlier.
|Canadians can now
score with government
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
OTTAWA, Canada — The government has begun selling medical marijuana to seriously sick people and their suppliers.
The announcement made Wednesday by Health Minister Anne McLellan here is in response to an Ontario court ruling in January, which gave the government until July 10 to broaden access to medical marijuana for people with chronic or catastrophic illness. Canada's federal government is appealing the ruling.
Eligible patients include those with severe arthritis, cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
Under the program, several hundred sufferers will be able to buy 30 grams of dried marijuana for $112, or a pack of 30 seeds for $20 - about half the current street price.
Ms. McLellan said that this interim policy can be amended or suspended
at any time. She added that Ottawa will continue with clinical trials to
determine whether marijuana really benefits the sick.
Pacheco backs two treaties
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
President Abel Pacheco said Wednesday that there was no conflict between possible free trade treaties with both the United States and the European Union.
Pacheco and some of his cabinet were in San Salvador Wednesday for a
meeting with other Central American leaders and José María
Aznar, the Spanish prime minister. Pacheco said that his view on the treaties
was shared by Aznar.
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Revered by his supporters as the strong, God-fearing leader that the country needs and scorned by his detractors as a genocidal dictator, Efrain Rios Montt remains one of the most controversial figures in Guatemalan history.
And he also hopes to be the nation's next president. He is now awaiting a ruling from Guatemala's highest court as to whether he can run in the upcoming elections despite a constitutional ban on former dictators running for president.
Efrain Rios Montt's theme song played in a Guatemala City stadium, while delegates at his party's national convention named him their candidate for the November presidential elections. The stadium was filled with posters showing a symbol of a hand with three raised fingers.
The hand sign is the symbol of the FRG, the ruling party, which Rios Montt directs from his post as legislative president. But this year it takes on another meaning: this is the third time Rios Montt is attempting to overcome a constitutional ban on former dictators running for president.
This 77-year-old evangelical preacher and one-time right-wing military dictator hopes that this time around the highest court in Guatemala will agree with him and rule that the constitutional ban is itself unconstitutional.
No law can be retroactive. The constitution was written in 1985, he says, and he ruled in 1982 and 1983.
Legal analysts, like Roberto Molina, president of the private Center for the Defense of the Constitution, say whether he is successful or not, the mere effort by the general, as he is known here, to try to challenge the constitution is detrimental to the country.
The fact that the official party is trying to register a candidate that everyone knows cannot register, is causing confusion about what you can and cannot do in this country, he says. This is a young democracy where people are still learning to respect the rule of law, he says.
State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher
|told reporters in Washington that
U.S. relations with Guatemala would suffer under a Rios Montt presidency.
One of the general's biggest critics, human rights leader Frank La Rue, says the controversy around Rios Montt's candidacy is not just a legal issue, but an ethical one.
"Rios Montt simply is the symbol of genocide," he said. "It was during his two years of government that the majority of massacres, displacements, sexual abuse of indigenous woman and all these atrocities were committed. He cannot be president. He doesn't have the moral standards to be a statesman."
Guatemala's 36-year civil war between government forces and leftist rebels left a toll of 200,000 people, mostly Maya Indians, dead or disappeared before it ended in a peace accord in 1996. The Historical Clarification Committee, Guatemala's version of a truth commission, concluded that agents of the state committed genocide against Maya Indians during the years that included Rios Montt's rule. The report did not name him specifically.
But La Rue's group estimates that some 60,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed during Rios Montt's rule.
For his part Rios Montt says he had nothing to do with it. There were massacres and dead people all over the place, he says, but he never ordered it.
At a recent rally in the highlands of Guatemala, Rios Montt's supporters cheered him on. Not everyone here remembers his rule for the atrocities.
His supporters recall it as a time when there was little common crime and they say he is the only one who can bring order to this turbulent nation.
Rios Montt says its time the people and not the courts decide whether they want him for president. It is not so much about whether or not he is allowed to register, he says, but about whether Guatemalans are allowed to vote for the person they want. If they let him register, he says, he'll win in the first round.
The court should make its ruling next week.
CARACAS, Venezuela — The launch of a Cuban-inspired literacy campaign together with the arrival of hundreds of Cuban doctors to set up consulting rooms in poor districts here have brought fresh accusations that the government of President Hugo Chavez is seeking to "cubanize" Venezuela.
Chavez once remarked, on one of his many visits to the Cuban capital, Havana, that the two countries were sailing towards what he called "the same sea of happiness." Since then, the accusation that Venezuela's leftist president wants to copy Fidel Castro's communist system has been a constant of opposition speeches and rallies.
That claim, repeatedly denied by the government, received fresh impetus this month. The catalyst was the launch of a nationwide literacy campaign designed in Cuba. But there have also been renewed allegations that Cuban doctors and sports instructors, as well as teachers, sent in the hundreds by Fidel Castro, are part of an indoctrination scheme aimed at introducing Communism by stealth.
The poor barrios of Caracas are the scene of a new pilot program aimed at improving health care for the poor. Cubans described as "volunteers" have moved into private homes, where they offer free consultations and medication, often in competition with clinics run by the metropolitan authorities.
Alfredo Pena, mayor of metropolitan Caracas, is a fierce government opponent, who ironically
|depends for his financial resources
on the central government. Caracas health officials say their budget has
been cut by over 50 percent, with the result that their already over-burdened
clinics are facing collapse. They suggest that this may be part of a plan
to shift resources to the Cuban cooperation project.
Adding to the controversy are accusations that the Cubans are neither qualified to practice medicine nor familiar with modern pharmacology or treatment methods. There have been claims by Venezuelan doctors of serious malpractice that allegedly placed patients' lives in danger.
The Cuban personnel have not been required to validate their qualifications in Venezuela, and according to the president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, Douglas Leon Natera, they are operating illegally.
President Chavez dedicated most of his regular Sunday radio and television show to denying these allegations. He added that the plan was to bring in a thousand Cuban doctors in all.
There have been similar complaints by the teachers' unions about the Cuban-designed literacy campaign. Over 70 Cuban teachers were brought in to train Venezuelans to use the audio-visual material.
So far, the opposition has been unable to prove its accusations of indoctrination. But with President Chavez facing the possibility of a recall referendum within the next few months, the war of words seems bound to continue.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has cancelled a planned vacation in Italy in the wake of anti-German remarks by a senior Italian official. The German government says the chancellor and his family will instead spend their summer vacation in Schroeder's hometown of Hannover.
It is the latest episode in a continuing spat between Germany and Italy that began last week when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suggested that a German member of the European Parliament should play a Nazi concentration camp guard in an Italian film.
Berlusconi later expressed his regrets to Schroeder without formally apologizing for his remarks.
But that was before an outburst by Italy's top tourism official, Stefano Stefani, who, in a letter to a right-wing Italian newspaper, called German tourists hyper-nationalistic blondes who arrogantly invade Italian beaches every summer. Stefani has refused to apologize.
That prompted two top German government ministers to demand that Stefani be fired. The
|mass circulation German tabloid,
Bild, urged Schroeder, who frequently goes on vacation in Italy, to cancel
his plans to visit the country this year, as he had threatened to do when
Stefani's remarks first appeared Friday.
Wednesday Schroeder's spokesman said the ongoing controversy between the two countries would make it difficult for the Schroeder family to have a quiet and restful vacation in Italy. So, he added, they will spend their vacation at home.
Nearly eight million German tourists visited Italy last year. German Interior Minister Otto Schilly, who owns a house in Italy and plans to spend his own summer vacation there, warned Italy that German tourists just might decide to take their vacations elsewhere as a result of what he described as Stefani's obscene remarks.
Even more worrying for the Italians was a warning by travel firms in both countries that the $9.6 billion a year that German tourists spend in Italy may be in jeopardy.
Local tourism officials across Italy are writing letters to German newspapers assuring the Germans that their money is welcome in Italy.
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