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These stories were published Thursday, July 24, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 145
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Crackdown begins on child prostitution, pimping
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police raided an alleged house of prostitution Wednesday afternoon and detained six persons, including someone presumed to be a client. Two 15-year-old girls who were in the house were in police custody to be interviewed.

The raid took place at a dwelling across the street from the admissions unit of the San Sebastian prison in the southern San José barrio of the same name.

Investigators said they had placed the property under surveillance two months ago. The operation is believed to be about five months old, and neighbors are reported to be the persons who brought the matter to police attention.

Rogelio Ramos said that his Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública is attacking the problem of exploitation of minors and that other police operations of a similar nature will follow.

The government of President Abel Pacheco has placed a high priority on fighting exploitation of children, and investigators generally consider anyone working as a prostitute who is under the age of 18 to be a victim rather than a criminal.

A report from the ministry said that pimping was a factor in the raid, too. The home was operating under the name of a massage parlor. Arrested was the female administrator, 35, and her assistant, about 25, another adult woman and the male client, as well as the two girls, said the ministry. Also involved in the case was the Fiscalía de Delitos Sexuales of the Ministerio Público.

Officials generally have looked the other way in matters of massage parlors and places of prostitution. However, the Pacheco administration has adopted a moralistic tone and has used existing laws to clean up areas known for such activities.

The continual weekend searches by immigration police are directed most of the time at bars and hotels that cater to sexual contact. A number of prostitutes are foreigners, coming from Nicaragua, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, eastern Europe and even the United States and Canada. Those who were here illegally have been targeted and, in many cases, deported.

The problem of underage prostitutes is being addressed in a package of laws the Pacheco administration is directing through the 

Asamblea Nacional. One proposal doubles the penalty for pimping from the current two to five years to four to 10 years if the person being marketed for sexual purposes is less than 18 years. 

If the person being pimped is 13 or younger the penalty is from five to 15 years, according to the proposal that national deputies still have to approve.

The matter also is involved with the administrations attack against child labor. Some officials said that underage children are being held hostage to work as sexual slaves, although no such arrests have been made. The legal proposals would increase the penalty for depriving a person of liberty to from four to 15 years if the victim is under 13 years.

Officials also are expected to use information from their surveillance to track down some of the patrons of the San Sebastian operation. A number of customers and their vehicles were observed during the period of police investigation.

Officials also are wrestling with the situation presented by prostitution operations that do not involve minors but are close to the definition of pimping, which is illegal in Costa Rica.

Officials raided and closed Arte y Sauna, a long-running massage parlor just a half block south of busy Avenida 2 in downtown San José on Paseo de los Estudiantes May 7. They alleged that pimping was involved.

Nearby are several other establishments, some with an alcohol license and some without one, that are houses of prostitution. Operators of such places say they only provide the physical location and that any transactions of a sexual nature are between the prostitute and the client. But as in the case of Arte y Sauna, investigators are trying to void those legal arguments with proof to the contrary.

Officials, too, have to face the presence of several luxury locations for prostitution. Several even advertise in the newspapers, as do some strip clubs that also promote interaction between customers and dancers.

Officials see a connection between adult prostitution, child prostitution, pornography, child pornography, sex tourism, pimping and other exploitive situations. The murder of Katia Vanesa González Juárez, 8, July 4 and the subsequent arrest of a neighbor as a suspect in Barrio Quesada Duran have given officials the moral high ground to bring action against such crimes.

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Foreigners targeted by hi-tech credit card ring
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A massive credit card fraud targeting mostly foreigners who visited Jacó, La Fortuna and Quepos is the likely outcome of an investigation agents kicked off this week.

Detained were five persons who had in their possession a portable computer and blank credit cards. The group had all the equipment necessary to twin real credit cards and produce an exact copy for criminals to use, said investigators.

The five person who said they were Venezuelan

are in jail for three months while the investigation goes on. However, agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization are unsure of their identities or nationalities.

The five had a way of reading the electronic and magnetic information on credit cards as customers used automatic teller machines. The computer had a number of files containing this type of electronic information, investigators said.

The bulk of the credit card information came mostly from U.S. citizens and Europeans, said agents.

Raids bring arrest of two suspects in taxi rapes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two pirate taxi drivers routinely picked up young woman, hit them, threatened them and took them to isolated spots where they raped and robbed them, according to investigators.

Judicial Investigating Organization agents staged two raids Wednesday where they arrested two men on four rape charges. They identified them by the last names of Caldarón, age 24, and Aragón, 19.

All the women were between 18 and 25 years of age, investigators said. As a result of the raids, agents confiscated the vehicle they believe was used in the crimes plus clothing.

Pirate taxi drivers are those who are not licensed and ply their trade outside the law, 

particularly in lower-income areas.

Although there are just four charges now, investigators said they expected other women to come forward and gave the telephone numbers of 295-3316 or 295-3317.

Agents said that a woman would board the taxi and the two men there would strike her and take her to an isolated place.  Sometimes women would decline to ride with a pirate taxi driver and a man would get out of the car, pull a gun and force her to get in, said police.

The women who filed complaints were picked up in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, Tarbaca, Aserrí and Desamparados. The men live and the raids were conducted in San Juan de Dios de Desamparados, said agents.


 
Holdup highlights
bank security ideas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bank holdup Wednesday morning in Desamparados and the kidnapping of a branch manager and his family last week in Matina have brought official attention to security for the savings institutions.

Walter Navarro, director of the Fuerza Pública, announced later Wednesday that a new center would be set up to monitor bank alarms in conjunction with the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, which is the nation’s insurance monopoly. He met with other officials Wednesday to discuss security measures.

The monitoring center will not be just for banks but for other businesses that need a rapid response from police, said an announcement.

Officials also will set up a security course for bank managers in an effort to avoid the kind of kidnapping that took place last week in Matina de Limón. There bandits held the bank manager and his family hostage until they could get to the bank and open the safe. The wife and two children were released that same afternoon, but the bandits got away.

Managers also will be given the option to have an alarm system installed at home or on their person, said the summary of Navarro’s meeting.

The Banco Popular was the target Wednesday morning when gunmen entered as employees were coming to work. They got about 30 million colons or about $75,000 in Costa Rican currency.

Kirchner and Bush
discuss recovery

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has met with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner at the White House for talks covering Argentina's economic recovery efforts. 

President Kirchner told reporters afterwards that he was satisfied with Wednesday's meeting and had received decisive and unconditional U.S. support for his economic program. 

Kirchner had said earlier he hoped the Bush administration would back Argentina's bid for a new loan package from the International Monetary Fund. 

Argentina is struggling to emerge from a severe economic crisis which led to a massive debt default and a devaluation of its national currency, the peso. Argentina wants to negotiate a three-year aid package from the Monetary Fund before a $2.9 billion loan comes due later this year. 

Prior to the talks, White House spokesman Scott McClennan told reporters that Bush values the relationship with Argentina, which is an important ally.  McClennan said the president supports Kirchner's efforts to return Argentina to a path of sustainable growth. 

The spokesman also said the two presidents would cover other issues, including the global war on terrorism, global and hemispheric trade and economic prosperity in the hemisphere. 

The White House talks marked the first meeting between the two presidents. Kirchner took office on May 25. 

Mr. Kirchner travels to New York today for meetings with investors. He is also expected to meet with members of the Jewish community to discuss the investigation into the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. 

Additionally, Kirchner will visit the former site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Bus driver shot
when he resists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Pavas bus driver took two bullets in his right arm Tuesday night as he confronted robbers about 10:30 p.m.

Agents identified him as Benjamin Salazar Salgado and said that he resisted the two bandits who shot him in return. The men fled with no money, agents said.

Buses in certain sections of Pavas have been routinely held up over the last two months, said drivers.

Friday is a holiday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friday is a national holiday in Costa Rica marking the 179th anniversary of the decision by politicians in Guanacaste to join with Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua.  Government offices, banks and embassies, including the U.S. Embassy, will be closed.

More bodies found
in Ciudad Juárez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUAREZ, México — Police say the bodies of three women in their 20s have been found in shallow graves on the outskirts of this city near the U.S. border. 

The bodies were discovered Wednesday, one day after officials unveiled Project Juárez, a plan to stop violence that has claimed the lives of hundreds of women in the area since 1993. 

Authorities say the bodies were badly decomposed but believe the remains were those of Juárez residents Miriam Garcia, Karina Ramos and a third woman whose name was not released. The women had been missing since Sunday. 

Police also say they are searching for a man identified as Felipe de Jesus Machado, who was last seen with the women when they disappeared. Police say the discovery of a charred sport utility vehicle belonging to him led them to the remains. 

Ciudad Juárez is in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The area has been identified as a gateway for drugs. 
 
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After 31 years, Roberto Clemente gets new honor
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Roberto Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico and the first Latino enshrined in major league baseball's Hall of Fame, is remembered for being an all-star both on and off the ball field.

Though he died 31 years ago, Clemente continues to be an inspiration for sports fans of all ages. A number of schools and parks are named for him, 
and he was the second baseball player to appear on a U.S. postage stamp. Jackie Robinson was the first.

Ironically, Clemente's extraordinary dedication to helping others led to his own demise. The legendary right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates died at age 38 in a 1972 New Year's Eve plane crash while traveling to deliver relief supplies to 

victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua. But his charity to others lives on, as signified at a White House ceremony Wednesday where Clemente was one of 11 Americans in the arts, sports, politics, science, and business awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.

The honor is reserved for individuals the president deems to have made especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to world peace, to culture, or to other significant public or private work.

President George Bush said at the White House ceremony that Clemente would have been 69 years old next month.

"Millions of Americans remember hearing the news that Roberto Clemente had been lost on a mission to help the people of Nicaragua after an earthquake," said Bush. "His full name was Roberto Clemente Walker, and in an era of [Willie] Mays, and [Mickey] Mantle, and [Hank] Aaron, he ranked as one of the greats. He was a young man with a quick bat, a rifle arm and a gentle heart."

Bush added: "The true worth of this man, seen in how he lived his life and how he lost his life, cannot be measured in money. And all these years later, his family can know that America cherishes the memory of Roberto Clemente."

A Clemente biographer once said about him that "this was a man who could have lived a luxurious life away from the troubles of society and the poverty he faced as a child, yet he was not like that. He gave up his life trying to help other people in need."

His son, Roberto Clemente, Jr., said in an interview that "I know Dad is looking down upon  us and is very proud of what his legacy has done for our culture."

Clemente, Jr., now a broadcaster for the ESPN sports network and formerly a Spanish-language play-by-play announcer for the New York Yankees, said "our kids are learning about my dad in school and in the history books, and they have someone to look up to."

Of his father, Clemente, Jr., said: "This kid from Carolina, Puerto Rico, grew up to be a baseball player, but not only that, he grew beyond the game of baseball. He became a hero, and 31 years after his death he's still receiving accolades for being the man he was. Baseball is really secondary to the legacy he left as a human being."

Every New Year's Eve, fans still leave flowers on the beach about a kilometer from where Clemente's plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. At the time of the crash, he was looking for land to establish a "Sports City" for the underprivileged children in his hometown of Carolina. Today, Sports City, established by Roberto Clemente, Jr., is a thriving sports-recreation center in Puerto Rico.

Another legacy is Roberto Clemente State Park — located not far from baseball's legendary Yankee Stadium along the Harlem River in the New York City borough of the Bronx — which offers a variety of recreational and cultural activities. The annual Roberto Clemente Week at the park celebrates the famed baseball star's life with a series of special events.

Clemente played for the Pittsburgh Pirates his entire major league career, from 1955 to 1972. He was four-time National League batting champion, the league's most valuable player in 1966, a 12-time Golden Glove winner for fielding proficiency, and the most valuable player in the 1971 World Series when the Pirates beat the Baltimore Orioles. Clemente was the 11th player to have 3,000 hits in his major-league career. In 1973, Clemente was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, with the standard five-year waiting period waived because of his untimely death.

U.S. interest rate of zero suggested in future
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Federal Reserve must be ready to cut a key interest rate to zero, if necessary, to provide support to the economy, should prices sharply drop, a U.S. central bank official says.

Speaking Wednesday to a University of California group, Federal Reserve Governor Ben Bernanke said that keeping the federal funds rate target at or near its current level for an extended period may be sufficient to keep disinflation in check. The federal funds rate — the interest banks charge each other on overnight loans — is currently at 1 percent, the lowest level in 45 years.

But should that prove insufficient, he said, the bank may need to cut the rate further, all the way to zero, despite the costs such an action would impose on savers and some financial institutions.

In such case, Bernanke said, the U.S. central bank would consider so called nontraditional policy measures including increased purchases of long-term government bonds and the issuance of options to borrow from the Federal Reserve at low rates.

He suggested the costs of deflation — recession, financial stress and rise in unemployment — would be even greater.

Earlier, Bernanke defined deflation as "price declines so widespread that broad-based indexes of prices, such as the consumer price index, register ongoing declines," stemming from a dramatic drop in aggregate demand.

Bernanke said, however, he personally does not view a drastic change in the inflation rate as "imminent."

"Should further declines occur, a more gradual downward drift over a period of one or two years would be the more likely scenario," he said.

Bernanke said that while the continuation of the recent trend toward disinflation is possible, "stable expectations of inflation and the recent weakening of the dollar may help to offset that tendency."

In part, Bernake's remarks echoed those of the Federal Open Market Committee, the policy-setting body of the Federal Reserve, which at its May 6 meeting said that preventing further declines in inflation must be its priority for the future.

"I hope we can agree that a substantial fall in inflation at this stage has the potential to interfere with the ongoing U.S. recovery, and that in conceivable--though remote--circumstances, a serious deflation could do significant economic harm," he said.


 
We are counting on some funny stories
It's time to tickle that funnybone if you have one
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is a land of contradictions, and contradiction is one of the chief concepts of humor.

So now is a time to gently explore our foibles in the mid-winter humor contest sponsored by A.M. Costa Rica marking the second birthday of our Internet daily newspaper.  (Yes, it is "winter’ in Costa Rica.)

Send your humorous writings for publication to:

editor@amcostarica.com

Make your fellow readers laugh and win great prizes, such as:

• water skiing at Lake Poas.

• annual subscriptions to A.M. Costa Rica

• sunbathing expeditions to the sand dunes of Quepos

• Whale-watching expeditions at the patio of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica

• A night of guaro excess with the A.M. Costa Rica editor (your treat).

Any money prizes will be paid in post-dated checks.

We expect to have some famous judges. At least we will have judges.

 

Consider the possibilities:

• The Escazú Witch Project
• Fear and Loathing in Santa Ana
• Waiting for Enrique
• How Would You like to be President for a Day?
• The Attack of the 100-foot-tall ICE
• The Return of the Arias.
• The Taxista Always Rings Twice
• Mr. Smith Goes to Arbitration

But you can do better than that. The important thing is to be funny. You can use satire or straight humor. But you must write about Costa Rica. (George Bush is out. We can’t make this too easy.)

Your stories can be true, but exaggeration is a tool of humor. We will publish the good ones as fiction.

Some people say our readers cannot possibly top what really has been happening in Costa Rica. But we have faith.

Our second birthday is Aug. 15, and that’s the deadline.

Now some folks will be upset with us, thinking that we are picking on them. These are the folks who are humorously challenged. Why should we take the credit for them being so funny? Nevertheless, if you wish to send us hate mail or death threats, please do not clog up the editor’s mailbox like before. Send your hate mail or death threats to:

threats@amcostaric.com

Let the contest begin.

No submissions today
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