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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, July 19, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 142           E-mail us   
Jo Stuart
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Bandits, guard shoot it out on downtown street
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunfire broke out Wednesday in the very heart of San José as two men on a motorcycle tried to rob a hotel messenger.

A bystander suffered a non-fatal head wound, and a hotel guard who was engaged in the firefight also suffered a wound.

The drama played out at the Aurola Holiday Inn just north of Parque Morazán just three blocks from the downtown boulevard. The hotel is well known by tourists. It is on Avenida 5 between calles 5 and 7.

The men on the motorcycle drove into the underground parking garage and confronted the
messenger, identified as José Villareal. He was about to take money for a deposit.

The guard entered the fray and the gun battle appears to have moved out on the city street where the passerby took a bullet to the head.

A Cruz Roja attendant said that the bullet did not penetrate the skull. The man was believed to have the name of Johan Montoya.

A daytime crowd converged on the scene after the gunmen fled. The motorcycle later was confiscated in Barrio México.

The hotel is a block away from a public school, and the park, identified by its bandstand, is frequented by many.

Those wacky 'bullfights' will be back again this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The bulls will be back at the Zapote festival this Christmas, much to the delight of those Ticos and Ticas who want to test their courage and tourists daring enough to get in the ring.

The health ministry shut the festival down last year creating a noticeable vacancy in the celebration of the Christmas holidays.

For anyone who does not understand, here is the concept:

A normally intelligent individual gets in a ring with 50 or 60 other persons and tries to stay alive while bull after bull is released into the crowd. These are not like Ferdinand, the children's book bull last seen sitting under a tree and sniffing flowers. These are the real deal: hardened, bad-tempered creatures who really do not like Ticos running up and slapping them on the rump.

Those in the ring have to be fast afoot, although bulls do not have a long attention span and are easily distracted. The audience cheers as participants are propelled through the air or cringe on the ground under the sharp horns of an unhappy bull.

Many leap to temporary safety over the interior walls of the ring. Sometimes so does a bull.

Eventually a rider comes along, ropes the tired bull and makes way for a new one.

A tragedy has not happened recently at Zapote, but the Tico bull fights are a sometimes fatal staple at fairs and fiestas around the country. In this version of the sport the human dies and not the bull. The Cruz Roja even has its own mini-hospital constructed at the bull ring. It gets a lot of use.

The Municipalidad de San José has taken over responsibility for the bull fights, and a new ring is going to be constructed. There also will be a scaled-down version of the Zapote festival this 
fighting bull
OK, who's next?

year.  In the past some 150 bars, temporary dance halls and midway attractions were crowded into the grounds. This year the number will be 50 or less. One of the main health concerns last year was the lack of clear exits from the festival grounds in case of emergencies. The area appears to be over a geological fault.

There also is big money in the festival and in the bulls. Humans challenging the bulls will be televised by both major San José stations, and the overseas rights are profitable. Last year one station even found another Christmas festival that had the Tico brand of bull baiting. A second station has a whole series of variety acts planned and advertising sold for each holiday night, so last year workers decorated a sound stage to appear to be a booth at the festival.

The bulls begin Dec. 25 under the proposed plan. There will be 23 confrontations between humans and bulls. Of course, various permits will be needed, and the project still could be derailed. The festival runs through Jan. 1.

The Christmas horse parade, called the Tope, will again be the day after Christmas in San José, but there is no word if the Dec. 27 carnival parade will be resurrected.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 142

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Child sex law is approved
with an admission by Arias

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

President Óscar Arias Sánchez said Wednesday that Costa Rica is an international destination of sexual tourism with minors and the country also is a transit point for minors involved in the sex trade.

With his words, the Presidencia has come full circle from Miguel Ángel Rodríguez who in 2001 said there was no problem with sex with minors in the country.

Arias was signing a bill that the Asamblea Legislativa approved in the first two weeks of June that stiffen the penalties for sexual activity with minors.
Still Arias seems to suggest that the problem was one of prostitutes and foreigners who come here seeking, in the words of Arias, "jovencitas." He also said that Costa Ricans should not turn their head away from such activities, noting that mini-skirted young prostitutes with excessive makeup frequently can be seen on a street corner.

In a parallel report, Casa Presidencial said that police and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child protection agency, conducted 280 raids of nightspots, bars, houses of prostitution and others from 1999 to 2006.  They also fielded 65 complaints about child pornography and 21 complaints about production of child pornography.

But the report said that only 35 persons were convicted during this period. Some 10 cases still are pending, six persons were acquitted, and the suspects in the remainder of the cases were in flight or otherwise awaiting further proceedings.

Arias blamed what he called the complex social problem on poverty, inequalities, lack of opportunities, drug addiction, abandonment of school, citizen insecurity and the disintegration of the family.

Arias did not mention it, but the new law does penalize sexual activity with a minor by a relative or a person in a position of trust, like a guardian. This is the dominant circumstance of child sex abuse in Costa Rica.

The proposed law also says that the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors does not begin to run until the youngster turns 18. In addition, the proposed law increases from 12 to age 13 when more serious penalties can be applied for sexual crimes. The penalty is from 10 to 16 years for sexual intercourse involving someone under 13 or an incapacitated person or when violence is used for any age.

The penalty is from two to six years for an adult who has sexual intercourse with someone between 13 and 15 years even if the younger party consents.

The law also increases the minimum term by one year for corruption (four years) and aggravated corruption (five years), which is generally enticing a minor into paid sex.

The penalty for making pornographic material with a minor would be raised from three to eight years to five to 10 years.

A new section provides a prison term of three to five years for distributing pornography to someone 13 or younger. The current penalty is one to four years. For someone over 13 but younger than 18, the penalty would be from two to four years, instead of the current one to four years.

Two teens get prison terms
in murder of pensionado

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two teenagers have been handed 14-year prison sentences in the death of a U.S.  pensionado here in March.

The press office of the Poder Judicial confirmed that the two persons, now 17 and 18, lived in Carmen de Guadalupe where the crime took place.

The 17 year old is in the Centro de Menores Zurquí and the older teen is in the Centro El Buen Pastor women's prison.  Both were tried in the Juzgado Penal Juvenil de San José.

At the time of the crime, the two teens said they killed the man because he tried to rape one. Both teens were minors at the time of the crime.  They were guests of the victim, 66-year-old Wilfredo Quesada Ramos, a Cuban-American.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, Quesada invited the two girls to his apartment. The girls testified that the man took a knife and threatened the older one and insisted on sexual relations.

According to the story told by the girls, they both attacked Quesada to stop the rape. He suffered multiple stab wounds. Later the girls showed up at an office of the Judicial Investigating Organization to file a complaint for rape.

When the body was found, Quesada was nude, said police. Quesada imported cars for the United States for sale here.

Our reader's opinion
Term 'counter-revolutionary'
depends on the point of view

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

With regard to M. King's statement that the Contras were not a revolutionary force:

All of us have feelings and opinions with regard to U. S. meddling in foreign affairs throughout history.  My Nicaraguan wife lost a Contra uncle and almost lost a Contra brother during the conflict in Nicaragua.  I have to admit that my feelings and opinions are tainted.

Isn't it nothing more than semantics to call the Contras "counter-revolutionaries"?  The word "revolution" simply means turn or change.  Are timing and "who was first" the only things that determine who was a revolutionary and who was a "counter-revolutionary"? 

If we used M. King's reasoning, couldn't we say that the English were "revolutionaries" when they seized and made colonies of the land populated by Native Americans?  Would that make our founding fathers "counter-revolutionaries."   What does M. King think of those meddling Frenchmen and their "diabolic agent," the Marquis de Lafayette who cleverly aided George Washington to victory at Yorktown?  

Perhaps France should never have sent their navy to aid General Washington and his band of "counter-revolutionaries."  What should we call my great-great grandfather, who was the confederate commander of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry during the American Civil War? A "counter-counter-revolutionary"?

In the United States, we celebrate independence from England, but we are at peace with England and among its closest allies.  We celebrate peace since Appomattox in April of 1865, and have made tremendous strides toward freedom and racial equality for all since that time.

Peace implies forgiveness and acceptance.  The Nicaraguans, both Contra and Sandinista, have put aside their past and held their government and country together since the first free elections in 1991.  This is commendable.  Bickering over who was a revolutionary and who was a "counter-revolutionary" does nothing to help them, and is only more American interventionism.
Joseph B. Call
Kwajalein Atoll
Republic of the Marshall Islands

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 142

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Among the more unwelcomed visitors is the scorpion
By Donna Lynn Norton
Special to A.M. Costa Rica staff

The presence of scorpions is commonplace in Costa Rica. The shy critters can be almost anywhere. But they still generate a bit of panic.

It is not yet a scientific fact, but my shoes tend to attract them. Like the one Wednesday that was quietly sitting on my shoes next to the bed as I got up.

The instruction to always shake out your shoes still is valid in the tropics, although there are many stings worse than that of a scorpion.

This is the second time a scorpion found a home atop my shoes. My shoes seem to function the same as their venom — it seems to paralyze them.  They just sit there next to my shoes until I smash them with something, and then very carefully, with something that keeps my hands way away, I remove them, and then wait for my heart to stop pounding. 

The smashing is an emotional response. Intellectually it is clear that scorpions are vital to the natural balance. They eat harmful insects. Their encounters with humans are only accidental.

Their biggest danger is to someone with allergies who might suffer respiratory arrest from a sting.

For the rest of us, Costa Rican scorpions are generally harmless. The sting is like that of a bee or wasp. An ice pack is helpful. Africa hosts several varieties of scorpions that have powerful venom, so more prudence is required there.

Scorpions are related to spiders and ticks, and have
A.M. Costa Rica/Donna Lynn Norton
Get along, little fella, away from my shoes

plier-like pincers to hold onto you while they sting you in a stealthy fashion.  Their scientific names (like Centruroides limbatus), and names of their body parts are words from the language of extraterrestrials.

Now plastic bags are under all outside doors, a flashlight is under my pillow, and a mosquito net is over the bed and around the bed posts. 

But what to do about the shoes?

Trejos, university rector, should take leave from public job, pro-treaty forces say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pro-free trade treaty forces said Wednesday that Eugenio Trejos, rector of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, should take a leave of absence while he fights to defeat the measure.

The statement came from the Unión Costarricense de Cámaras y Asociaciones del Sector Empresarial Privado, which cited a decision by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones. The tribunal said that public employees should not use their work time or public facilities to push one side or the other of the referendum on the treaty that will be held Oct. 7.
As rector, Trejos holds an elective position. He was put there by a vote of the students, employees and faculty at the Cartago-based public university. He also has been a lead spokesperson for the anti-treaty forces.

The university staff for months has been opposing the treaty. Among other things, the university press office has been issuing releases on the topic.

University workers have said that defeating the treaty is a legitimate role for academic activists as part of their job.

The chamber said that Trejos should take a leave without pay.

Sarchí kicks off two-weekend fair Friday with worlds biggest oxen yoke
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If any Central Valley town is a beacon for tourists, it is Sarchí, the place of the handmade furniture.

The town will have its annual artists fair starting Friday, and few places can boast of as many artists as Sarchí.

In addition, the town is following up on its reputation of building the biggest carreta in the world. A carreta is the typical Costa Rican ox cart. But this one, constructed for the fair last year, is five meters (more than 16 feet) high and six meters (nearly 20 feet) long.

The whole cart is 14 meters (about 46 feet) long counting the tongue and has wheels three meters (nearly 10 feet) in diameter.
This year the surprise is a yugo or oxen yoke that is the biggest in the world. The yoke is four meters long and weighs 550 kilos, more than 1,200 pounds. The new addition to the carreta will be unveiled Friday at 11 a.m.

The yoke was constructed by Luis Zamora, a local artist who specializes in oxen yokes.

The fair runs both remaining weekends in July and ends Monday, July 30, with fireworks. High points include a parade at noon and 8 p.m. Saturday, an ox cart parade Sunday starting at 10 a.m. and a tope or horse parade Saturday, July 28, at 10 a.m.

Every day artists works, food and other items will be available. In addition there is the proximity of the many furniture stores of Sarchí.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 142

Athletes as well as whole nation of Brazil are in mourning
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian athletes at the Pan American Games are marking a three-day mourning period following the country's worst airline disaster.  In Rio de Janeiro, athletes are wearing black armbands to remember the nearly 200 people who died Tuesday in the Sao Paulo crash.

Brazilian television read the names of those killed in Tuesday's fiery crash at Sao Paulo Congonhas Airport. Brazilian newspapers carried banner headlines and half-page photos of the tragedy.

The Airbus A-320 was owned by Brazil's domestic Tam Airlines.  It crashed as it was attempting to land on a rain-slickened runway.  The runway had recently been resurfaced, but had not had grooves carved into it to drain the water.

News reports from Sao Paulo say the pilot had apparently tried to take off again, but did not get altitude and slammed into a gasoline service station across a busy highway.
President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva declared three days of national mourning.

At the Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro, a statement from the Brazilian Olympic Committee said that the nation's athletes would wear black arm bands to mark the mourning period.  A moment of silence is to be observed before events in which Brazilian athletes are competing.

Along Rio's Copacabana Beach, the beach volleyball competition continued, but flags are at half-staff. 

The crash was the worst air disaster in Brazil's history.  In September, a Gol Aerolinhas Inteligentes SA Boeing 737 and an executive jet collided over the Amazon rain forest, killing 154 people.

In February, a Brazil federal court briefly banned takeoffs and landings of three types of large jets, because of safety concerns.  An appeals court overruled that, saying the safety concerns were not sufficient to outweigh the severe economic hardship it would cause Brazil.

U.S. trying to send Manuel Noriega to France to face a prison term there
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. prosecutors have moved to have former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega extradited to France after he is released from a U.S. prison in September.

Prosecutors filed extradition papers Tuesday on behalf of the French government. Noriega was convicted in France in absentia in 1999 on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He faces a 10-year prison sentence and a multi-million dollar fine.

Noriega's attorney, Frank Rubino, says his client is  protected under the Geneva Convention because a judge has
declared him a prisoner of war.

Under the Convention, a prisoner of war who has served his sentence must be sent back to his native country.

Noriega has been convicted in absentia in Panama for the brutal 1985 murder of dissident leader Hugo Spadafora. Panamanian authorities say the former dictator will be imprisoned if he returns home.

U.S. forces captured Noriega after invading his country in 1989. He was convicted in 1992 on drug trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy charges. His scheduled release follows the conclusion of most of his 30-year sentence.

Spanish high court decides Argentine human rights suspect will be tried there
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Spain's supreme court has ruled that a former Argentine naval officer accused of human rights abuses during his country's so-called "dirty war" will be tried in Spain.

The Spanish supreme court decision Wednesday annuls a lower court ruling that Ricardo Cavallo should face justice in Argentina.

Cavallo has been imprisoned in Spain since 2003, when he was extradited from Mexico and charged by Spanish authorities with genocide and terrorism.
Separately, the court earlier this month increased the prison sentence of Adolfo Scilingo, another former Argentine navy officer convicted of crimes against humanity and torture during the seven-year campaign against political opponents.

The court extended Scilingo's prison term from 640 years to 1,084. Scilingo, however, is expected to serve only a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Official estimates say some 13,000 people died or disappeared during the dirty war era, which lasted from 1976 to 1983. Rights groups put the toll at 30,000.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 19, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 142

Tamarindo plans a marathon
as first of an annual event

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tamarindo will host a full marathon Aug. 4, and participants will run from the Guanacaste beach town to Brazilito and back again.

Some 300 to 400 runners are expected, although some will opt for shorter courses.

The Runners store chain in the Central Valley is coordinating the event and profits will go to the  Asociacion Pro Mejoras de Playa Tamarindo, said a spokesperson.

The organizers hope to make this an annual event.

Starting time will be at 2 p.m., and the course is described as flat.

The full marathon is a 42.2 km (26 mile, 385 yard) race. Also available will be a 10 km. run, a half marathon and a 21 km. race.

Registration, which already has opened, requires a fee that depends on the distance to be run.
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