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(506) 2223-1327        Published Thursday, July 10, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 136        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Cruz Roja decides to cut services
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There are only three functioning ambulances in all of San José, said a Cruz Roja spokesman Wednesday. And due to gas prices, the national Cruz Roja council decided paramedics will now help even fewer victims, said the spokesman.

One elderly man waited three hours for an ambulance after he fell on a sidewalk in downtown San José, Thursday. The man, William Ulate Sánchez, 62, said he broke his hip and could not get up from the sidewalk, said Antonio Ramírez Corrales, a taxi driver, who waited with the man as a police officer called 911.

“They arrived two hours and 45 minutes after the call,” said Ramírez. “That clearly isn't just.” The incident was confirmed by Carlos León, a captain in the Fuerza Pública. “The ambulance took approximately two and a half hours to arrive,” said León. “The Cruz Roja unit said that they received a call simultaneously, but we are looking into it.” added León. Ramírez said all the onlookers and police officers in the area were extremely angry because the ambulance had taken so long.

“We need double the ambulances and paramedics that we have,” said  Freddy Román Navarro, the Cruz Roja spokesman, Wednesday.

The case of Ulate wasn't in the Cruz Roja registry, said communications operator Alexander Porras Wednesday night. That probably means it was not a high priority level, said Porras. He also mentioned there was a demonstration in Tres Ríos that night and many ambulances were busy.

The metropolitan Cruz Roja sector includes all of downtown San José, Barrio Mexico, Los Hatillos, Alajuelita, Barrio Amón, Barrio Cuba, Cristo Rey, and Paso Anocho, among others, said Cruz Roja workers. The division has just seven ambulances for the entire area and only enough paramedics to operate three of them, said Román.

After a meeting Saturday, the Consejo Nacional de la Cruz Roja decided that victims with less serious cases would not helped, said Róman. “Due to the price of gas and lack of workers and ambulances, they made that decision,” said Róman. The spokesman said Cruz Roja spends about 3.4 million colons (or $6,800) daily on gas for ambulances. People with severe headaches, vomiting or diarrhea will now be advised to go in a bus, in a taxi or by other means to the hospital, said Róman.

A Cruz Roja legislative bill, asking for more money, is still in discussions in the assembly, said Róman.
ambulance driver goes it alone
A.M. Costa Rica/Elise Sonray
David Pasos Carpio, 26, checks out the stretcher. He frequently works alone. So who taking care of a patient while he drives the ambulance?
man in street
A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales
William Ulate Sánchez broke his hip and was on the sidewalk for about three hours before an ambulance arrived.

The bill, filed in 2005, would levy a tax of 80  colons (16 cents) monthly on each person with a phone line or cell phone line.

Davis Pasos Carpio, a Cruz Roja paramedic for Montes de Oca, usually works alone, he said while waiting outside of Hospital Calderón Guardía Wednesday evening. There is only one ambulance in Montes de Oca, and it is not enough, said Pasos. There are only two permanent paramedics for all of Montes de Oca, said Pasos. The 26-year old paramedic works five days a week, 12 hours a day, he said. “Out of the five days a week, I work at least three alone,” said Pasos.

The paramedic said on the radio dispatch he had heard victims wait for up to two hours for an ambulance. The cases are ordered by priority, he said, and many times the ambulances are full. In the most serious red level cases, said Pasos, paramedics aim at 15 minutes: a five-minute arrival, five minutes of care to the victim and a five-minute drive to the hospital.

Pasos said he thought San José metropolitan unit was the highest level in the country. Tres Rios has 18 neighborhoods and only three ambulances, he said. He also said much of the area was high conflict and dangerous for ambulance crews because of gangs and drugs.

On top of the lack of ambulances, money, and paramedics, the hospitals are overflowing and have no room, said Pasos. “I believe in many cases it's better for a patient to stay home and take medicine rather than wait hours in line at the hospital when there is not even room to sit,” said Pasos.

If there were a real emergency like a bus accident leaving victims in critical condition, each hospital would only have enough room for a few patients, said Pasos. Hospital Calderón Guardía could accommodate four in their trauma ward. Hospital San Juan de Dios could take in three, and Hospital Mexico could take four, he said. A few clinics might be able to take one or two patients, said Pasos, that is if the space wasn't already occupied.

“Everything is totally bad for emergency situations, but we must continue working,” said Pasos. The rest of the patients in an emergency would have to be transported to places like Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago, said Pasos. That is what happened three years ago when a fire at Hospital Calderón   broke out, said Pasos. The fire left 17 patients and one nurse dead.

Cruz Roja receives about 1,200 cases a day, said Róman. There are 480 ambulances in the country, he said, adding that some cannot function due to lack of paramedics and volunteers.

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Printers push the deadline
with city transit decree

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The central government's expanded restrictions for the San José central core are supposed to go into effect today when and if the presidencial decree finally is published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

The cover of today's La Gaceta was available online, and it made reference to the decree. This is issue No. 133 for the year. But the inside pages online are those of the Wednesday edition. That includes the decree section. So the actual decree was not available by 1:30 a.m., and the cutline of the cover photograph said incorrectly that the decree would be enforced 24 hours a day.

Transit officials said late Wednesday that the times of restriction were being reduced to 13 hours, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. But that information appears to have not made the La Gaceta.

In addition to an online version, the La Gaceta is available in paper and as a .pdf file. But the .pdf file online was that of Wednesday, too.

The likely scenario is that transit police will be ticketing offending vehicles in the central core regardless of what the La Gaceta says. Vehicles with license plates bearing a 7 or 8 as the final digit are the prey starting at 6 a.m. The ticket is 5,000 colons or about $10.

One change is that delivery vehicles with perishable products like fruit are exempt from the restrictions if the driver obtains a permit from the transit authorities.

Heavy trucks only will be subject to the rules one day a week from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Business people in the restricted zone complained that 20 percent of their fleet would be in the garage every day. Now trucks will only be restricted five hours a day depending on the last digit of the license plate.

Housing minister quits
amid growing scandal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The growing financial scandal in the Arias administration claimed its first victim Wednesday when  Fernando Zumbado Jiménez, the housing minister, stepped down from his job "temporarily."

Zumbado is the key figure in the management of some $1.5 million donated by the government of Taiwan in 2006. Supposedly the money was to go to improve living conditions in the Rincon Grande de Pavas slum. The money was set up in a trust with the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica.

Still it appears that the money was not used for the Pavas residents but instead went to some 39 persons or companies, including one that had been founded by Zumbado.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez lamented the resignation of Zumbado in a press release Wednesday. The president noted that the case was being investigated by the Contraloría General de la República, the nation's financial watchdog. It also has been referred to the administration's ethics committee.

Legislators of the Movimiento Libertario said that Zumbado and the bank awarded a $315,000 contract to the  Centro Internacional para el Desarrollo Humano Sostenible, an entity that Zumbado founded and served as president until 2006.

The minister also reported that some of the money went to his office manager and two public relations employees who work in the ministry, said the release from the Libertarians.

Zumbado's leave will be without salary, Casa Presidencial said.

The Arias administration is facing yet another financial woe also involving the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. Some $2 million was dispersed to Arias, and perhaps as many as 90 persons and entities shared in the bonanza.

Casa Presidencial said Wednesday that Alfredo Ortuño, director for Costa Rica at the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica, had been asked to provide access to investigators to the documentation on these payments that were part of two agreements. Arias promised Tuesday that investigators from the Contraloría could have this access. But much of the information has not yet been made public.

 The events have been particularly embarrassing to the Arias administration because the president prides himself on helping the poor and in transparency of government actions. But Casa Presidencial had declined to make full disclosure on the $2 million slush fund, saying that the money is not public.

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Security minister says her agency is 'watching' pimping site
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of security said Wednesday her agency is watching nightclubs and other locations they suspect may be illegally pimping prostitutes.

The minister, Janina Del Vecchio, made the statement after she spoke publicly about the fight against child pornography, exploitation of minors and sex tourism. When asked later about the issue of illegal prostitution houses, she answered, “The ministry is following these sorts of places and working with the Judicial Investigation Organization to do so.” She added that there is a sign in the airport discouraging sexual tourism. 

As to people like taxi drivers who act as pimps, Ms. Del Vecchio said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Polícia y Seguridad Pública is working with the taxi union to stop the problem. The head of taxi union was unable to be reached Wednesday.

Ms. Del Vecchio held the press conference to talk to leaders of the Fuerza Pública about workshops for police officers which will address issues like handling domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, and sexual commercialization.

A. M. Costa Rica reported Monday that illegal pimping is
rampant  in Costa Rican and that this is the engine that drives sex tourism.

Ms. Del Vecchio took up the opportunity to discuss her administration's theme: community integrated security. “We aren't giving any response to the people of Costa Rica. They want responses,” said the minister. She repeated the importance of  police interacting with their communities and climaxed her speech when she strongly said to the police officials, “In a Christian context, it's your sin.”

When asked if her approach has improved the country's security, Ms. Del Vecchio said that specific numbers were not in yet but that thefts in general have gone down.

The police workshops started Wednesday and will be taught around the country, said a Fuerza Pública spokesman.

In a strange emphasis, one of the many signs around the press conference read “58 percent of officers didn't use a condom in their last sexual encounter.”  It appeared that the ministry was promoting  sex outside of marriage for its officers. Ms Del Vecchio might have been unaware of the sign.

In a more obvious caution regarding HIV/AIDS Ms. Del Vecchio advised officers to use latex gloves in many of their cases. 

Police and coast guard officers line up the pacakges of suspected coacine they were found floating in the Pacific.
loads of coke
Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública/Humberto Ballestero

Pacific yields bonanza of floating drug sacks and two boats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican coast guard crewmen began following a suspected drug boat Tuesday. But by Wednesday the drug cargo appears to have been dumped in the ocean and anyone involved had fled. How they did so remains a mystery.

The Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas seized 2.5 tons of cocaine found floating in two lots off the Pacific coast.

Martín Arias, coast guard chief, applauded the monster catch as a success for Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y
Seguridad Pública intelligence efforts, while Minister Janina Del Vecchio  in a ministry release characterized the seizure as proof of the Costa Rican coast guard's capabilities independent of U.S. assistance.
Coast guard officials located the drugs, distributed in 120 sacks composed of 20 packets each, apparently floating freely in two general areas off the Pacific coast.

Shortly afterwards, the coast guard located and seized a small speedboat containing 10 barrels of fuel to the southeast of Isla Negritos, according to the release.
The boat is presumed to be the pickup vessel for the drugs, but no suspects were on board. Another boat, the Costa Rican-flagged Adriana, was also discovered nearby. Officials believe the Adriana was to be scuttled, the release said.

Ministry officials are still searching for suspects, and coast guard boats are continuing to patrol the area for more evidence, the release said. 

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U.S. Senate back bill allowing wiretaps of citizens overseas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Legislation to revise U.S. surveillance law survived a key test vote in the Senate Wednesday, despite opposition from some majority Democrats to a provision protecting telephone companies from possible privacy lawsuits.

The Senate could give final approval to the bill and send it to President Geroge Bush for his signature before a congressional recess next week.

The bill would require government authorities to obtain individual court orders to wiretap Americans who are outside the United States and require a special court to give advance approval to the government's procedures for wiretapping operations.

Senators voted 80 to 15 to proceed to the legislation — 20 more than the 60 votes necessary under Senate rules.

The bill, which updates the 1978 Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, would expand the government's powers to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects while at the same time take steps to safeguard civil liberties.

"We have produced a strong, smart policy that will meet the needs of our intelligence community and protect America's cherished civil liberties," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The bill would grant retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies that allegedly took part in the Bush
administration's warrantless wiretap program following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — but only after a federal court determines they received legitimate requests from the government to participate in the program.

That provision has some Democrats furious. "This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation. This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program," said Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.

Phone companies face some 40 lawsuits over their reported participation in the wiretap program.

At least one Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, takes issue with the requriement for judicial approval before overseas Americans are wriretapped. "The idea that the executive branch of the government needs the explicit approval of the judiciary branch before collecting foreign intelligence information from foreign citizens in foreign countries is simply wrong-headed, and is contrary to our constitutional principles," he said.

The bill would allow electronic eavesdropping on American targets without court orders in what are designated as emergency situations, allowing the government to submit justifications within one week.

The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives last week, and President Bush has said he would sign it. The measure would replace a temporary surveillance law that had expired in February.

Colombian government using Ms.Betancourt's voice to urge rebels to surrender
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The voice of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt is blaring over the jungles of Colombia, urging the rebels that held her captive for six years to demobilize.

Colombian military helicopters equipped with loudspeakers are blasting Betancourt's voice in Spanish saying "Hey, guerillas" and telling the rebels they can recover their liberty if they surrender.

The operation is part of a psychological campaign that the Colombian government hopes will persuade members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia to disarm.

Ms. Betancourt and 14 other hostages held captive by the rebels were rescued last week in an elaborate Colombian military operation.

Ms. Betancourt's former captors are believed to be holding more than 700 hostages in Colombian jungle camps for ransom or political leverage.
The Colombian government has said it is looking into opening direct contact with the Fuerzas Armadas in an effort to win the hostages release.

Ms. Betancourt is in France, but says she will return to Colombia. She told Reuters television she is open to possibly running for the Colombian presidency again but is not going to become obsessed with the idea.

Ms. Betancourt was campaigning for the Colombian presidency in February 2002 when leftist rebels kidnapped her.

Tuesday, Ms. Betancourt received a warm welcome from members of the French senate, who greeted her with tributes and a standing ovation. The French government took an interest in Ms. Betancourt's case and President Nicolas Sarkozy made her release a priority.

Next week, President Sarkozy will award her with the Legion of Honor, France's highest distinction, on the Bastille Day national holiday.

Local protest against rebels and hostage-taking will be July 20 in Santa Ana
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Colombians in Costa Rica will join with their countrymen in another worldwide protest against hostage-taking.

“Now is the time! Liberate the prisoners! Now is the time! Unite for the freedom of all the prisoners!”

This is the message the Asociación Colombia Soy Yo and the Fundación País Libre will deliver to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia July 20 in as local rally at the Pedregal picnic area in Santa Ana.

The rally, part of the worldwide “A Million Voices Against
FARC,” will begin at 9 a.m. and will seek to build upon the recent anti-hostage sentiment following the rescue of 15 prominent hostages earlier this month. The event will feature a concert called “Music for Coexistence,” according to an event release.

While Fuerzas Armadas and Colombian issues will likely dominate the agenda, the demonstration is designed to protest any organization that practices kidnapping. Coordinators invite members of all political and ideological backgrounds to participate according to the release.

Similar events are being planned in some 50 countries, organizers said.

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Tamarindo lifeguard force
posts 20 rescues in June

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Safety and beach cleanliness are apparently on the rise in Tamarindo following the revival of a lifeguard force four months ago in the Pacific-coast town in Guanacaste.

Between the three lifeguards, swimmer safety is maintained six days a week during peak hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to an update from the program.

A total of 20 rescues were reported in June by the guard staff without a single case of drowning, an update said.

About $2,080 has been collected for the guard program since May 31 from various local fundraising activities, and the force participated in a Surfrider and Scotia Bank effort to clean the beach and touch up the guard towers last month, the release said.

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Child on vacation dies
in hotel pool in Sámara

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After nearly three hours of frantic searching a family found their youngest daughter dead at the bottom of the hotel swimming pool in Sámara Monday, said a Fuerza Pública official.

The family from Tres Ríos had just started their vacation in the small Pacific coast town Sunday, said a hotel receptionist. After a day at the beach the parents and five children returned to the hotel, Mirador de Sámara, said Fernando Briones Zúñiga, chief of Fuerza Pública in Sámara.

Marcela Castro Pérez, 4, was the first to shower and leave the hotel room while the others were washing up, said Briones.

At about 3 p.m. the family notified the police and a search of the surrounding area began, said Briones. At about 5:30, another hotel guest saw something at the bottom of the pool and notified the reception, said Noemi Zúñiga a receptionist at the hotel.

Police believe the little girl fell into the pool and drowned, said Briones. 

The family stayed until early the next morning as investigators from the Judicial Investigation Organization arrived and removed the child's body, said Zúñiga. The girl had epilepsy and family members said it was possible she had a seizure and fell into the pool, said the receptionist.

Festival in San Vicente
will be held all weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fourth annual Festival Cultural  de la Guanacastequidad will be held Thursday through Sunday in the Interpretación del Ecomuseo in San Vicente, Nicoya.

The festival will celebrate local culture and promote tourism in the area with folk dances and music, art displays and conferences, according to a Universidad Estatal a Distancia release.

The festival will also coincide with the commemoration of 4,000 years of Chorotega pottery production and craftsmanship in the region, the release said.

Activities include a children's mask-making lesson at 2 p.m. on Thursday, an introduction to traditional games at 11 a.m. Friday and a 2 p.m. poetry session Sunday followed by popular marimba dance music at 8 p.m. according to a festival schedule.

Local artisans will be selling crafts each day in addition, and a concert will begin each day at 4 p.m. the schedule details.

The festival will be hosted by the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, as well as the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Costa Rican Museo Nacional, the release said.

Tourist found dead at home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Austrian tourist was found dead in the house he was renting in Playas del Coco, Guanacaste Tuesday.

The body of Konrad Kucera, 65, was apparently discovered about four days after his death, according to Fuerza Pública official Johnny Fernández.

“Apparently he lived alone,” Fernández said, citing a police report, “The judicial investigating organization is investigating the cause of death. He will be undergoing an autopsy soon,” the policeman said.

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