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These stories were published Tuesday, July 15, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 138
Jo Stuart
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Petition drive faces danger of being hijacked
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica embarked on national therapy Monday as thousands rushed to sign petitions in support of the "Osvaldo y Katia" law.

Petitions were tacked up at government offices. At least one booth attracted hundreds of signers on the pedestrian boulevard in downtown San José.

Casa Alianza, the child advocacy group, reported Monday evening that more than 2,000 persons had signed the petition via e-mail. The organization distributed an e-mail linked to a web page where recipients could sign.

An analysis

The only problem was that nearly all of the signers have no idea of the content of an "Osvaldo y Katia" law and no certainty that it exists at all.

No copies of proposed laws were available where people signed in San José. Casa Alianza said in its e-mail that the purpose of the law was to increase the penalties for kidnapping a minor from the current two years. It also said that "We need your aid so members of congress understand the grave damage produced by their inertia facing the delicate situation of children."

Members of the Asamblea Nacional already have said they would raise the penalty for child kidnapping, so there is a possibility that the "Osvaldo y Katia" law will contain a number of other concepts that have not been made clear to the public who signed or will sign the petitions.

The idea has been floated that a registry should be created in which the names of those who murder, rape or abduct youngsters should be listed. That type of law probably will require a constitutional change, lawmakers have said. 

But for some Monday the problem was not listing the names but in the kind of punishment meted out by the courts in the first place.

One person on the boulevard was Cristian Mora Araya, who said that his young brother died at the hands of a man 14 years ago. A photo of the dead child was displayed above the signature table. Mora said he was upset that the murderer got a sentence of 10 years but only served five, he said.

Others have similar tales, and the signing was as much an act against the laxity of the court system, as against child abduction.

Although the maximum penalty for abducting a child is just two years, judges piled on time in the last case before the court, that of a man who was convicted of abducting but not killing Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, then-3, of San Miguel de Higuito in Desamparados. Judges found other types of criminal acts in what the man was convicted of doing, and he got 10 years.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Garry Campbell, an insurance broker, signs a petition on the pedestrian mall.
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Cristian Mora Araya below a photo of his brother, the victim of a murder.

Even Repretel, the television network, presented the petition drive in an uncritical manner. It featured a number of photos of Katia Vanesa González Juárez, the 8-year-old girl found dead Friday along with emotional funeral-type music. A reporter urged people to sign the petition and to participate in a march Friday.

The aim of the march also still is unclear. The Patronato de la Infancía sent out a bulletin Monday that said "We want to honor their memory and show the world that we continue being a people who love peace who condemn these savage acts that denigrate a country that always has been known for its security, democracy and civility." The governmental child welfare agency promised more information today.

The danger exists that the petition drive will be hijacked by persons with their own political agenda that have little or nothing to do with the murder of children. Already there has been some talk of including provisions strengthening laws against sexual exploitation of minors to target hotels and other tourist locations. The inclusion of domestic violence also is possible.

Casa Alianza, of course, has a long history of promoting such laws against sexual exploitation. And organization leaders may believe that the only way to get such laws passed would be to include the legal changes quietly in measures that are presented to the public and lawmakers as something else.

The so-called Megan law was first past in New Jersey in 1994 after the death of Megan Nicole Kanka, 7, at the hands of a killer. The law requires law enforcement officials to notify persons and organizations in a neighborhood when a convicted sex offender moves in.

Elsewhere, some persons who have not really committed sexual offenses have found that the law as passed requires them to register as sex offenders. Several cases involve youth arrested for public urination when they were highly intoxicated.

So lawmakers in the United States have had great difficulty in constructing laws that protect children but do not stigmatize the innocent.

There also are technical questions in Costa Rica where, for example, computers at police and security agencies are two to three generations behind machines available elsewhere. 

And many rural police stations lack patrol cars and telephones, not to mention computers.

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Police battle squatters
at Sarapiquí finca again

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers faced angry land-grabbers Monday when they returned to a finca in Río Frio de Sarapiquí.

One man died in the encounters that followed, and two police officers suffered injuries, including some from machetes.

The problem started last Wednesday night when about 200 police arrived to evict the squatters at Finca Bambuzal based on an order of the Juez Penal de Sarapiquí. Police faced some rock throwing, but generally did not have major battles. They did find a boobytrap of dynamite designed to explode when police came near.

Over the weekend police halted an invasion of land by some of the same squatters in Lagunilla in Heredia.  The squatters arrived Saturday evening with truckloads of wood and metal to construct temporary dwellings on the land.

Both pieces of property are believed to be owned by the Standard Fruit Co. of Costa Rica.

Monday two police officers were patrolling the Sarapiquí finca where the squatters had been evicted when they ran into an armed gang of some 30.

Police said that officers Hamilton Molina López, 23, and Daniel Rodríguez Obando, 29, were attacked by men swinging machetes and others with boards from which nails were protruding.

A 46-year-old man, identified by the last names of Moya Solís died in the battle with police. Investigators said that he had a police record for robbery and drug offenses.

More than 100 officers participated in the melee as did about 80 squatters, said police. Nine persons, including two women were detained, they said.

The squatters had lived on the Sarapiquí finca for nearly two years as they fought legal battles to keep the land.

Police brought in explosives experts Monday to check out the property in light of the dynamite that was found Wednesday night.

Famed Cuban musician
was Grammy winner

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Award-winning musician Compay Segundo, 95, has died here. Compay, whose real name was Maximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz, won a Grammy as part of the popular Buena Vista Social Club recording, which compiled works from a number of traditional Cuban musicians.

A German filmmaker made a documentary of the same name about the musicians. Compay was born in the eastern Cuban town of Siboney, learned the clarinet as a teenager, and played for years with a number of musicians. 

He went on to form a duo called "Los Compadres," invented a seven-string guitar, and later headed a group named "Compay Segundo y sus Muchachos." He died from kidney failure. His body is to be returned to the city of Santiago, where he lived as a boy. 

Montserrat faces
more volcanic action

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Volcanic explosions have covered the Caribbean island of Montserrat with mud and ash, but no injuries have been reported. 

Officials say the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted late Saturday, and the explosions caused part of the volcano's dome to collapse.  The eruptions sent torrents of mud and rock down on the island's roads, and the weight of the ash caused tree branches to snap.  The Soufriere volcano came back to life in 1995, causing many residents to flee. An eruption in 1997 left 19 people dead. 

Foot-and-mouth cases
found in Paraguay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCION, Paraguay — Authorities say they have detected an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in animals along the country's border with Argentina and Brazil. 

Paraguay's animal health service head Gerardo Bogado told reporters that the disease had been found in 13 of the 17 cattle tested. Bogado said the entire herd of 95 animals would have to be slaughtered. 

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, swine, goats and sheep. The highly contagious sickness brings on fever and blisters in cattle and often results in the death of younger animals. 

The South American countries of Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are among the world's top beef producers and house roughly a quarter of the global herd. The region has been hit by recurrent cases of foot-and-mouth disease in recent years.

Final vote total
confirms big loss 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Mexico's ruling party has lost ground in key midterm elections. Election officials say President Vicente Fox's National Action Party lost 49 seats in the July 6 balloting, giving it 153 seats in the lower house of the legislature.

The rival Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, made slight gains, winning 224 seats. 

Last week, President Fox urged his government and lawmakers to work together to achieve consensus after preliminary results showed his party's loss. Fox won the presidency in July 2000, ending more than seven decades of consecutive rule by the PRI. 

Guatemalan court lets
Rios Montt campaign

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The constitutional court has ruled, 4 to 3, to let Efrain Rios Montt, a 77-year-old evangelical Christian preacher and one-time right-wing military dictator, run for president. 

Rios Montt's candidacy was rejected in two previous elections, because of a constitutional ban prohibiting former dictators from running for president. He claims the ban was passed after he left office. He said no country enforces ex post facto laws.

The decision incensed some human rights advocates, who say Rios Montt does not have the ethical or moral authority to run for president. He has been accused of being among those responsible for genocide against Maya Indians, during Guatemala's 36-year civil war. Human rights leaders estimate some 60,000 people were killed during Rios Montt's brief yet iron-fisted rule in 1982 and 1983. 

But Aristides Crespo, secretary general of Rios Montt's party, celebrated the courts ruling, saying justice was done. He says he is satisfied with the ruling and that next phase is to win the election, Nov. 9.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Marco Vinicio Vargas, acting chancellor, (right) hosted the meeting of diplomats Monday.

European politicians
seeking better bonds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A delegation of European parliament members will be off today to tour pineapple, banana and farms where ornamental plants are cultivated.

These are the type of products that took a hit when the European Union discarded special tariffs for countries like Costa Rica. And the European visitors are out to mend fences.

Monday was a diplomatic day when the delegation met with President Abel Pacheco, other officials and then held a press conference at Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry.

The visitors expressed support for more contact between Europe and the Central American countries. 

Raimon Obiols I Germa, president of the committee for relations with Central American and México, said that he favored the rapid development of an accord between the European Union and Central America, not only of a free-trade nature but a true global association.

The ranking visitor is Alonso Puertas, vice president of the European Parliament. The host for the event was Marco Vinicio Vargas, acting chancellor who filled in for Roberto Tovar Faja, who was in the United States on a family emergency.
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Cuban government defector gets asylum here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Cuban delegate to a conference here on chemical arms got the good news Monday that his request for political asylum has been granted.

He is Yoandi Sánchez Díaz, 24, who works in the department of international relations of the Cuban science ministry. He is a chemical engineer.

The conference was last week and Sánchez was helped in his decision by members of the local Cuban community who housed him.

The resolution granting him refugee status was drawn up Friday and signed Monday by President Abel Pacheco and Marco Vinicio Vargas, acting chancellor. Sánchez met the press outside Casa Amarilla, the foreign mininstry, Monday afternoon.

Costa Rica has a long tradition of helping refugees from other countries, although many of the recent Cuban ones were baseball players headed for the United States.

The recent crackdown on dissidents in Cuba has hardened relations between the two countries, although diplomatic relations continue.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Yoandi Sánchez Díaz mets the press

Forum will consider poverty among Latin young
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Agency for International Development  is co-sponsoring a forum next week in the Dominican Republic to analyze the high rate of poverty among young people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Young people attending the "Americas Youth Voice" meeting will draft a declaration on children's rights and responsibilities, and debate their role in sustainable development.

Results from the meeting in Santo Domingo will be incorporated in the XII Summit of the First Ladies, Wives, and Representatives of Heads of State and Government of the Americas, scheduled for Oct. 16 to 17, also in the Dominican Republic. The theme for the First Ladies' summit is "Youth and Poverty," with other topics to be discussed ranging from teen pregnancy to violence against young people.

In a statement, the Pan American Health Organization, one of the organizers of the Santo Domingo event along with the government of the Dominican Republic, said that 47 percent of adolescents in the Americas between ages 13 and 19 were living in poverty in 1997, with wide disparities in the opportunities available to young people. 

To fill these gaps, youth leaders in Santo Domingo will design a proposal for the First Ladies' meeting, featuring guidelines for covering youth problems not met by current public policy. The problems to be addressed are in such areas as health care, education, employment, culture, and fostering an environment to obtain better development opportunities for young people.

The agency for International Development said youth unemployment is on the rise in most countries of the Americas. The agency explained that educational systems are failing to equip young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a fast-changing marketplace. At the same time, businesses have an urgent need for workers equipped with the technical skills to contribute to the region's growing information-based economy.

In response, the agency has invested $3 million over a three-year period in a program that promotes training and job placement in information technology for young people in the Americas. Working in alliance with the 

Inter-American Development Bank and the International Youth Foundation, the $24-million program called "Entra 21" (Preparing Youth to Enter the Modern Workplace), co-finances 40 locally-conceived and -executed projects to train 12,000 young people for the information age. The IYF, based in Baltimore, Md., operates in about 50 countries to improve conditions and prospects for young people. 

Entra 21 projects stretch throughout the Western Hemisphere. In Bolivia, for example, young people are being trained to help rural and urban communities link up with a new national telecommunications network system. In Colombia, 500 young people will gain technical competence that is in demand by local employers. In the Dominican Republic, Entra 21 is designed to help 360 disadvantaged youth gain the technical and personal skills needed to qualify for jobs being created in the city of Santiago.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Reporters and their equipment hang on every word brought by telephone from Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the former president, who is seeking the job of general secretary of the Organization of American States. He was in Spain. The bottom line? He’s ready for the job but needs help.

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