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These stories were published Monday, July 22, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 143
Jo Stuart
About us
Crouse case has some instructive elements
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and Jay Brodell

of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Roger Crouse, a Canadian, sits in a nondescript prison at the end of a long gravel road in Liberia. Several facts are certain:

• He’s is a pleasant person, well liked in his community of Playas del Coco.

• He killed a man in what mostly likely is self-defense. 

• He made some fundamental errors, the telling of which will be instructive to expats here.

• His trial on a murder charge begins Aug. 6.

• Crouse is probably going to prison for 12 to 16 years even though any reasonable person would agree he does not deserve to do so.

The case mirrors some fatalistic short story by Tolstoi of pain and redemption. But there also is a dose of anti-foreign bias and even a touch of greed.

The ordeal by Costa Rican law started last Aug. 19. Crouse, then 50, shot and killed a man in his Gaby's Bar in Playas del Coco.  The man came at him with a knife, Crouse told investigators. The man had been in the bar earlier creating a disturbance, and police took him away only to free him and let him return to the bar two hours later.

That’s Crouse’s version. His witnesses are a young woman who works at the bar and two Canadians who have since left the country.

However, the public prosecutor is building a case of a dispute and assassination among criminals. The dead man, Miguel Antonio Villegas Salguero, in his 30s, was known as a law-breaker in Playas del Coco.  The prosecutor has brought forth three witnesses to support the theme that the murder was planned.

The case has to be considered against the backdrop of Playas Del Coco, a one-time fishing village that has an overlay of tourism, a rough element, drugs, prostitution and other ills associated with economic hardship and lack of other opportunities. Crouse's bar catered to the locals.

An additional element is the relatives of the dead man who have joined the criminal case as injured parties. This is permitted under Costa Rican law. They want a substantial financial settlement.

In fact, Crouse did have one chance to go free if he paid $60,000 in bail. The suggestion was that he gets out of jail and leaves the country. He said he didn’t have the money and wouldn’t pay anyway.

Jessica Correas, the employee at the bar, said she has been threatened by telephone and warned not to testify.

In addition to the bar, Crouse owned a limousine service in the community. While he has been in jail, the bar has been burglarized multiple times and the vehicles gutted or taken away.

Crouse nurses the suspicion that the local police set him up by letting Villegas out of custody that Saturday night after holding him only two hours. He figures police wanted to either get rid of him or of the final victim.

Not so, say the police. Alexis Barteles, one of the officers at the Coco police delegation not more than 200 yards from Gaby’s Bar, agreed that the victim was frequently drunk and had been investigated for drug offenses.

Barteles said that anyone would have done what Crouse did, but the law requires proof.

In the nearby village of Sardinal, Alvaro Gutiérrez recounted his experiences as an officer who handled the Villegas case that night. He said police had to let the man go after a couple of hours because Crouse failed to file a formal demand or complaint. He said he realized Crouse was working at the bar nearby and probably could not leave, but the law requires a complaint, he said.

He said the knife taken from the man was kept and later sent to the Judicial Investigating Organization in Liberia. He also said that the man swore while in custody that he would go back and kill Crouse. The case may hinge on where a second knife, found in the dead man’s hand, came from.

Costa Rican law runs on paperwork, and this was not the first time that Crouse failed to file the appropriate complaint. Police estimate that he was the victim of perhaps 20 burglaries and

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Thieves haven't stolen the sign. . . yet

other events that were crimes. Had he filed such paperwork, his defense would be stronger, because without paperwork, the situations carry little weight under the law, they said.

Crouse was so troubled with crimes that he bought a gun, which thieves promptly stole, said police. He bought another, the one used in the shooting.

The trouble with Villegas seems to be that he thought Crouse denounced him at a meeting of foreign residents a week or so previous. Villegas, known locally by the street name "Platano," apparently was told incorrectly that Crouse had blamed him for a lot of the crimes in the community.

Crouse seems to have tried to slip by the charges cheaply. Several friends in Coco said they tried to line up lawyers for him early in the legal proceedings only to be told by him that he had found one who would do the job for free. 

Naturally, Crouse ran though about four lawyers during the critical early stages of the trial. His current lawyer, Marilyn Jiménez, said that some of the actions that would have helped Crouse along were not taken by the previous lawyers.

Aimed Caravaca, the fiscal or prosecutor in the case, has decided not to speak with reporters and now refers all questions to public relations personnel in the court system. This is at least the third fiscal handling the case due to turnover in the court system.

Crouse frequently calls reporters and he maintains a remarkably good humor considering his situation. Yet he has not improved his Spanish much while in prison, and has confessed to being uncertain at what happened during some key court sessions.

Some friends roll their eyes when they think of missed opportunities for his defense and suggest that he might have been more interested in saving money than in mounting a strong legal response. 

The situation in which he finds himself is a surprise for Crouse.  In nearly a year of upbeat telephone calls he always gave the impression that freedom is just one more court hearing away at which time the judge will recognize the injustice of his jailing. That never happened.

Some in Coco believe that Crouse, a foreigner,  has secret financial resources, perhaps corporations that own land and other assets on which his name does not appear. Some of these people are relatives of the victim, and they are pressing the case with the hope that Crouse will eventually crack and pay a six-figure damage award in dollars. Crouse said he is nearly broke.

But most agree that Crouse is being made an example, perhaps because he comes from a community where drugs and other vices are freely available. The guilt is by association.

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Tourism key element of Pacheco antipoverty plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco Administration released its much-awaited economic plan Friday, and to no one’s surprise the glowing predictions depend on passage of the fiscal plan now making its way through the Asemblea Nacional.

President Abel Pacheco targeted tourism as one of four priorities of his regime. He called for a 12 percent per year increase in that industry over 15 years to take advantage of the fact that about 50 percent of the tourism capability is idle, he said. He predicted an additional 75,000 employees in that sector and an increase in income of $1 billion.

Pacheco’s prediction amounts to a staggering 550 percent increase in tourism over the 15-year period.

The plan also targets agriculture, small business development and science and technology are priorities.

The purpose of the plan is to raise some 762,000 Costa Ricans from what the government considers poverty. To do that, Pacheco is urging a 6 percent annual increase in gross domestic product and a reduction of inflation to single digits in by 2004.

Pacheco outlined his plan at a meeting in the Centro Nacional de Alta Tecnología. Most of the president’s cabinet worked on the plan for about 10 weeks. 

"This is not an objective in itself, but a collection of tools to get the highest grade of happiness for each Costa Rican," the president said. The proposals seek to reduce the country’s deficit to zero by the end of his administration.

The plan also included a strong dose of investments in infrastructure, including the reconstruction and expansion at Juan Santamaría and Daniel Oduber airports and airports in key tourist destinations. The plan also called for road construction between San José and San Ramón, San José-Zapote-Cartago, the Heredia radial and San José to Limón.

The plan also calls for expanding by six times the capacity of the passenger port facilities in Limón for the benefit of cruise ships. Expansion is planned at other ports, too.

Much of what Pacheco proposes is based on the tax plan. That proposal was drafted by six former ministers of Hacienda, the tax-collecting agency. The proposal calls for beefing up collections, imposing a value-added tax, reduction of debt, establishing a minimum tax for corporations and increasing certain key existing taxes, like on gasoline.

At the same time, Ronulfo Jiménez, chairman of Pacheco’s Economic Council, said "The fundamental objective is to reduce the poverty from a perspective of  revitalizing the economy which translates into an economic increase and the generation of quality and productive employment that means an increase in salaries."

"I need you to help me. We are small, but we don’t have to continue being poor," Pacheco told his audience.

Another aspect of the financial plan is to sidestep laws that require a certain percentage of income to be earmarked for specific purposes. Some constitutional provisions require this and so do some laws. 

The Sala IV, the constitutional high court, recently ruled that such laws are unconstitutional intrusion of the legislature into the executive budgetary process. If that decision holds up, Pacheco’s Administration would have more flexibility.

Tourism was the only section for which Pacheco established clear numbers. The agricultural sector would benefit from technology transfers, credit and marketing assistance, according to the plan.

The small business proposals involve streamlining bureaucratic procedures, linkages with tax-free zones and the identification of additional opportunities.

The science and technology proposals were similarly vague, citing the Internet, the strengthening of the national technological system and investments in human capital.

Although outlines of the plan released by Casa Presidencial did not say it, Pacheco’s plan anticipates a strong boost from the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas and a free trade treaty between Central America and the United States and Mexico.

Pacific Princess
captain to trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of the captain of the Pacific Princess is scheduled to begin today in the Tribunal de Juicio in Puntarenas.

The captain is Álvaro Campos Villagra, who was in charge when the craft full of excursioners sunk in the Gulf of Nicoya on a run from the Island of Tortuga to Puntarenas.

The craft went down about six nautical miles from port, and two woman, Cecilia Rodríguez Solís, 48, and her daughter Marianella Salas Rodríguez, 20, died. Some 52 other victims were pulled from the sea by fishermen and the coast guard.

That was Feb. 15, 1997, when employees and their families of Tornillos Centroamericanos S. A. were on a holiday for St. Valentine’s Day. 

The case was supposed to go to trial early this year, but judges discovered that the owner of the craft, Compañía Turística Pacífico Azul de Costa Rica and Reón Internacional S.A. had not been notified as is required in the judicial code. The company faces possible financial penalties stemming from the claims of the passengers.

Campos is charged with being responsible for oversights that led up to the disaster. A probe by the Judicial Investigating Organization resulted in a finding that certain openings in the boat’s hull were not secure, and that is how water entered.

The presiding judge in the case is Ufrán Corrales, who will be assisted by Jorge Steve Fernandez and Juan Carlos Mejías, according to an announcement by the Poder Judicial press office in San José.

More than 50 witnesses are expected to testify, said the office.

Quepos sports boat
dumps its passengers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican coast guardsmen helped four sports fishermen from the Pacific on Friday after their boat overturned, said a spokesperson for the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Securidad Pública.

The 23-foot boat was the "Lucky Rue," captained by Quepos resident William Joseph Crosslley, said the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas in Quepos, according to the ministry.

Police said two other U.S. citizens, also Quepos residents, were aboard. They were identified as Michel David Foreeman, 30, and Michel George Borkapie, 50. Also involved was Carlos Herrero Cantarrana, 37, a Spanish citizen, they said.

The boat overturned about 2 p.m. in the vicinity of Boca Nueva de Damas north of Quepos, and the coast guard launch Escorpión 4 picked up three men about a hour later. Crosslley managed to swim ashore, rescuers said.

Jewish bomb recall
prompts renewed ire

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Thursday marked eight years since a truck bomb killed 85 people outside a Jewish community center in Argentina. Thousands of Argentines held a rally here, calling for justice in a case that has very few clues.

The mourners filled four blocks in downtown Buenos Aires. They carried signs that said they would never forget, but they let the voices do most of the talking.

A handful of peopel on the podium spoke for the crowd, demanding justice, eight years after a truck bombing at headquarters of AMIA, Argentina's largest Jewish Community Center. It was the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's history.

But the thousands rallying at AMIA, people like Ana Maria Krzyewski, did not bring much hope that the killers would be brought to justice. "I worked in AMIA on diez y ocho de Julio - July 18, and I am working now." she said.

July 18 is Ms. Krzyewski's "Sept. 11". It is the day she survived, but her 21-year-old daughter was killed. " am …. without hope," she said.

One thing that makes July 18 different from Sept. 11, she said, is her country's government does not seem to want to find the people responsible.

The AMIA case went to trial last year without any prime suspects. All investigators say they have determined is that the truck that was used in the bombing was stolen.

At the rally, speakers accused investigators of ignoring evidence that international terrorist groups were involved.

They also accused President Eduardo Duhalde and former President Carlos Menem of being involved in a cover-up.

In Menem's last visit to the United States, one speaker said, he showed more sympathy for American victims of terror than victims in his own country.

There was some hope, another speaker said, that after Sept.11, the world would want investigators to look harder to see who was behind the AMIA attack.

But Thursday, the feeling was, most people are looking away. The thousands who came to remember swore they would not.

Economists visit
Argentina today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A team of economists is coming here today to help the government complete a new loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Argentina's economy is in a poor shape and getting worse. 

A new report is forecasting Argentina's economy will contract for a fifth consecutive year in 2003. London-based Latin America Consensus Forecasts says Argentina's economy will shrink a whopping 15 percent this year. 

The group of so-called wise men going to Argentina includes Andrew Crockett, the head of the Bank for International Settlements and three well-known former central bankers. They hope to resolve outstanding differences between Argentina's government and the IMF. These include the role of Argentina's central bank and the lack of control over spending of central resources by provincial governments. 

Some analysts are suggesting Argentina should return to a monetary system of tying the peso to the U.S. dollar, a policy the government had adopted in the 1990 under former Peronist President Carlos Menem. 

Analyst Louis Goodman said this might be a good idea, but the system would have to be more flexible. "If Argentina were to return to a dollarization, they should set the currency at a rate that's realistic. The way it was set when Menem was president overvalued the peso by about 40 percent when the dollarization took place. And then the privatizations that took place during Menem's presidency hid what the real dynamics of the economy were. So it would have to take place and be managed in a way that was realistic vis-à-vis Argentina's economy." 

Argentina has been cut off from outside funds since it defaulted on $140 billion of external loans in December. 

The visit by the "wise men" comes eight months before presidential elections, in which Menem is emerging as a favorite. Anti-corruption crusader Elisa Carrio appears to be his main opponent.

White tiger trio
now on display

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The Buenos Aires Zoo is celebrating the birth of three rare white Bengal tiger cubs expected to become the park's main attraction. The cubs: two females and one male, made their debut on Thursday in one of the zoo's gardens where they romped in the grass before returning to their mother's side.

Zoo officials say the tiger trio was born June 10 and all are healthy. Officials plan to hold a contest among schoolchildren to name the cubs. There are only about 200 white Bengal tigers remaining in the world. Most live protected in zoos.  The huge carnivorous cats with their white fur with black stripes and blue eyes are native to Asia where they have been hunted nearly to extinction. 


Pope off to Canada
Mexico and Guatemala

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II has urged young people not to be afraid in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and conflict in the Holy Land. 

The 82-year-old pontiff, speaking to the faithful from his summer retreat at Castle Gandolfo Sunday, called the young the future and hope of the Catholic Church and of humanity. 

The pope leaves Tuesday for an 11-day tour of Canada, Guatemala and Mexico. The main purpose of his latest trip is the World Youth Day celebrations in Toronto, Canada. 

The event traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of young people. This year, however, only some 200,000 people have registered for the celebrations, in which young Catholics celebrate their faith, participate in community events, attend concerts, and go to mass. 

Pope John Paul II, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and arthritis, has been resting at the papal summer residence south of Rome before the trip. For the first time in his papacy he has not returned to the Vatican for his weekly general audience. 

Toledo facing drop
in approval rating

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Freely elected President Alejandro Toledo is ending his first year in office very differently than he started out. After being perceived by many impoverished Peruvians as a possible savior, Toledo recently had to change much of his cabinet following violent protests over privatization plans. Challenges for his second year in power seem greater than when he started out. 

President Toledo was acclaimed at his inauguration in July last year when he promised to work for the country's poor. Peru's first president of Andean Indian descent took power after 10 years of authoritarian rule and more than a decade without any real economic progress. He promised to lift impoverished masses from a cycle of underdevelopment.

Sounds from Peru have since taken a different tone. Demonstrators took to the streets of the city of Arequipa last month to protest against privatization plans of state electricity companies. Toledo's domestic approval rating sank to below 20 percent.

Last week, he fired his two main market-friendly cabinet ministers, replacing them with political veterans. Several other ministers were also let go. The new cabinet team said it was putting on hold further privatization plans.

Toledo called the cabinet overhaul "the first step" in a new phase of democracy to mark his second year in power.

Peruvian analyst John Crabtree is skeptical. "It's not clear what it's a first step towards," he said. "I think it's a first step towards broadening the base of the cabinet and, I think in that sense, it's a move to be welcomed but at the same time it doesn't resolve some of the internal and basic contradictions which face the government. On the one hand it needs to attract support internationally; on the other hand it needs to build support domestically. So I don't think it will really resolve the basic sort of schizophrenia which the government suffered during its first year." 

Another analyst Gerardo Le Chevallier from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs says he will be watching closely when Peru's political class and civil society comes together next week to sign a so-called national accord.

The document known as the "Acuerdo Nacional" is a broad blueprint for Peru's future democratic and economic reform. 

"I think the signature of the "Acuerdo Nacional" the national agreement . . . is a very positive sign. Let's hope that this can bring a political truce among the political actors and that this can contribute with long term planning,", said Le Chevallier. "It is key for democracy in the continent and generally in the world to produce some results and I hope for the sake of the Peruvians that Mr. Toledo with the support of the opposition can achieve some of these results."

Fujimori comeback
planned in Lima

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — A former media advisor to Alberto Fujimori says he is planning to open an office here to promote the return of the fugitive former president and another run for the presidency in 2006.

Carlos Raffo says he will open the office Sunday. He says its initial purpose will be to defend Fujimori against accusations of wrongdoing, but adds he is sure the former chief executive plans to run for a third term in office.

Fujimori faces murder and corruption charges in Peru for allegedly sanctioning massacres of suspected rebel sympathizers in the first years of his decade-long administration in the early 1990s. He maintains his innocence.

Fujimori has has been living in self-imposed exile in Japan since November 2000. Peru's Congress removed him from office following a corruption scandal involving jailed former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos. 

Japan and Peru have no extradition treaty and Japanese law prohibits the extradition of its citizens for alleged crimes committed in other countries. 

Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, was granted Japanese citizenship shortly after his arrival in Japan.

Sentences suspended
in cultural pillaging

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men got one-year suspended sentences in Nicoya last week after being convicted of trying to steal archeological objects.

Officials of the Poder Judicial identified the two by the last names Jiménez Sánchez and Vargas Vargas.  They have to maintain good behavior for three years under terms of the suspension.

Police arrested them Nov. 15, 2000, while they tried to dig up a site in Iguanita de Mansión on a lot owned by the municipality. They had used metal detectors to survey the site, said judicial officials.

Italian bank robber
loses his appeal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Italian citizen who held up two banks did not have any luck when he sought a reduction of his 59-year prison sentence to the Sala III, the top criminal court.

The man, who has the last name of Farrugia, was sentenced in January 1999 for the stickups at the Banco Nacional branches in Barva and San Joaquín de Flores in 1997. He got 8 million colons in the robberies, some $25,000 at the time.
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