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These stories were published Friday, Aug. 1, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 151
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Walk for the faithful might be a wet one today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The faithful on their pilgrimage to Cartago got extra heavenly credit Thursday because the sky opened up and drenched those who were walking.

The cloudy morning skies were perfect for the pilgrims. But about 1:30 p.m. the weather began to change. More than 34.5 mms. (1.4 inches) of rain fell by mid-evening.

There was not yet the flood of the faithful that will be on the roads today. Small groups of so-called romeros from the Spanish word for pilgrimage were seen on the highways and in downtown San José where they blended with the ordinary day-to-day pedestrians.

But more than a million Costa Ricans are expected to make the trek to Cartago.

Today weather forecasters differ. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional says that the Central Valley will see only isolated showers while much of the rest of the country experiences afternoon thunderstorms. International forecasters, however, predict thunderstorms for those on the road to the Basilica de la Virgen de los Angeles in Cartago.

In any case, the typical pilgrim is prepared with rain gear because rain approaches a certainty if the walk is very long in July and August. Some pilgrims have been walking for days in order to reach Cartago for services Saturday morning.

Thunderstorms are possible then, too.

The rains Thursday flooded out about six families in Cartago and caused landslides on several highways east of San José.

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Is there anyone in favor of negotiating now?
There is a new spirit that seems to be permeating the world, and it’s not the spirit of good will. It’s pretty scary. It seems to have started with U.S. President Bush, a self-declared man of peace. Mr. Bush, after saying that there was no negotiating with terrorists, declared The U.S. was preemptively invading Iraq in order to bring peace to the Middle East and the world. 

So far, in Iraq, peace seems to be the main casualty. Guerrilla warfare has replaced marching armies (is this what Mr. Bush meant when he said that fighting terrorism was going to be a "new kind of war"?) An unknown enemy is killing coalition soldiers daily. The Iraqi people are still being raided in the middle of the night and thrown in jail. The only thing that has changed is the politics of the raided. 

While I was in the States I read about a husband suspected of killing his wife and a basketball player who confessed to killing his best friend. Parents were killing their children, and more disgruntled workers were returning to mass murdering those still on the job. It is almost as if the people were saying, "Terrorists stay away and let us do our own killing."

In the Philippines part of the army tried to overturn the president. Well, that happens every now and then. Liberia is in a shambles, the people begging for help, and Korea is throwing an attention-getting tantrum of nuclear proportions. 

Almost as scary is that civility also is a casualty. One of the definitions of civility might be the willingness to negotiate, to talk things over. And its loss is seen in the most disturbing places. In Japan there was a ruckus in the legislature over the vote to send Japanese soldiers to Iraq to help maintain the peace. The news showed pictures of lawmakers crawling over each other to pound in their opinions. (When will the coalition get around to asking soldiers from Arabic-speaking countries to go to help?) 

In the United States, in another legislative 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

body, the House of Representatives, a Republican member called the police on a group of Democrats assembled in the library to review a bill. He later apologized, but in between a salty old Democrat called a young Republican a wimp and a fruitcake. 

But when I got back to Costa Rica, I got the biggest surprise of all. I learned that The University for Peace had called its own police to padlock its gates on Radio for Peace, International. These two entities that have shared the same space, more or less, for years, are, at the moment not speaking kindly to each other. 

The University for Peace wants the Radio for Peace, International to evacuate its own building and leave its grounds. RFPI would like to know why. One would think there could be two no more compatible entities in this country that is dedicated to peace, a country the United Nations decided was the ideal place to found the University for Peace and a place from which the Radio Peace decided to broadcast its message of peace. 

There is indeed a breakdown in peace and civility in the world. It reminds one again that there is interconnectedness in the world — that just maybe what is happening in Iraq can affect what happens in another part of the world.

There is a sign in San Jose that is posted in many places. It says, "Ticos, cambie su actitud y Costa Rica cambiara." (Ticos, change your attitude and Costa Rica will change) 

May I suggest the rest of the world take heed? Maybe we should change our attitude back to the way it was. Maybe appeasement and talking are the better part of valor. 

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Costa Ricans are shaken by a July full of murders
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans went to bed Wednesday shocked at the news three children had been gunned down on the Osa Peninsula. They woke up to news that yet another woman had been killed by a former boyfriend.

The twin murders, coming on the heels of a string of equally shocking cases, rattled the view a lot of Costa Ricans have of themselves, and their nation. Most also were happy to see the end of July, a month that will be remembered as bloody.

The latest murder, just before 3 a.m. Thursday in the barrio La Pascua in Quepos resulted in the death of a woman, 29, and her lover, 19. Investigators blame a former live-in lover, and said he showed up and shot both individuals in the face.

Dead is the woman, María Iris Sánchez Chinchilla, and the 19-year-old, Pedro Sosa Orozco. He was shot in the forehead, and she was shot in the nose by a .25 caliber handgun. 

Neaby Fuerza Pública officers located the presumed assailant, Ramón Garita Garita, 45, who shot himself in the temple after fleeing the scene. 

The Sánchez woman sought and received July 24 a protection order against Garita, said a judicial spokesperson. She claimed he had threatened her repeatedly. Garita was in Hospital México Thursday night in critical condition. He was described as a fisherman

The woman leaves three children, one 8 months old that was in the house, an 11 year old girl who was in an adjacent room and a 3 year old. Some are believed to be Garita’s, too.

Investigators in the Osa Peninsula still are seeking Carlos Corrales Picado, a 40-year-old fisherman who investigators say systematically hunted down two teenage boys Wednesday night then killed a 4-year-old while the child played in the patio of his home. Then the man shot and gravely injured the child’s father, they said. The shootings happened in Puerto Escondido, which is on the east side of the Osa Peninsula across the Gulfo Dulce from Golfito in southwestern Costa Rica.

The Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fuerza Pública were conducting a major sweep of the mountains on the Osa Peninsula to find the man who fled after the shootings.

Agents said the man first encountered Estiben Mora Vargas, 15, when the boy was fixing his bicycle. Investigators said it appeared that a firearm was pressed against the boy’s head before it was fired. The next to die was Francisco Mena Fallas, also 15, who was leaving a store in the community and fell dead in front of the Catholic church in the community.  He also had a bullet in his head.

The assailant next went to the home of Marcelo Solís Chinchilla, 41, who was resting in a hammock near his child. The child, Kevin, also was shot in the head, and Solís took a bullet in the stomach when he tried to confront the killer.

Investigators blamed the shootings on vengeance but were not more specific.

The deaths of the children reminded Costa Ricans of the killings of María Martínez Pichardo, 30, and 

her two daughters, Johana, 3, and Yorleny, 4. They died at the hands of a jilted lover, Jhonathan González Alvarado, last July 22 in Triangulo de Solidaridad in San Gabriel de Calle Blancos, Goicoechea. He killed himself later in prison. 

The Martínez woman, too, had a restraining and no-contact order against González.

So did Maritza Jirón Pichardo, who died early Tuesday in Barrio Limoncito in Limón. Her former companion, with the last names of Lara Bustos, was detained as the assailant.

Casa Alianza was quick to send out a news release promoting its proposed changes to Costa Rican law that the organization says will protect children. The child advocacy organization said that 32 persons 23 years and younger had been killed in Costa Rica this year. Some 20 of these were younger than 18, the organization said.

The press release spoke of a storm during the last weeks as a result of the increasing levels of violence against children.

"Sadly, one expects murders of boys, girls and youngsters in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvado, but it is not the same with Costa Rica. Things have changed." said Bruce Harris, regional director for Latin America of the organization.

The month was four days old when an 8-year-old girl vanished in Quesada Duran, a neighborhood in southeast San José. She was Katia Vanesa González Juárez. Investigators found her body under the floor of a neighbor’s house a week later.

The girl’s disappearance alarmed parents and concern mounted. Police reacted by releasing what they said was a profile of possible molesters, but the profile was seriously flawed.

Casa Alianza checked in by asking Costa Ricans, young and old, to sign petitions to promote a "Katia and Oswaldo law." Oswaldo is Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, 3, who was snatched June 4, 2002. He was the son of a Judicial Investigating Organization drug agent, and his body was found in behind a dam a week later.

Originally, Casa Alaianza was pushing a variation on the Megan law first passed in the U.S. State of New Jersey that requires police agencies to notify residents when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood. The law carried the name of Megan Nicole Kanka, 7, who died at the hands of a known sex offender.

The principal suspect in the Katia case, Jorge Sánchez Madrigal, 34, has been twice convicted of rape and also of murder in which he buried a woman he had killed.

In its release Thursday Casa Alianza seems to have backed away from the Megan law idea and instead is promoting stronger sentences for child kidnapping, something the government already said it supports.

The penalty for stealing a car is 15 years but the penalty for stealing a child is hardly two years, said the Casa Alianza release.

Actually, when the suspects in the Oswaldo case were convicted, judges piled on the penalties up to 10 years for the man accused of kidnapping the child but not killing him. The murder still is at large.

Internet publisher cuts back citing physical threats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The editor and publisher of a Venezuelan Internet daily says that threats and harassment of potential advertisers are forcing him to cut back the content of the online publication.

The newsman is Roy S. Carson and the publication is VHeadline.com Venezuela. The publication won acclaim during the April 2002 coup that briefly removed President Hugo Chávez from office for its detailed, fair reporting and the later exploration of the United States role. 

Although Carson has been accused of siding with the Chávez forces, he insists his reporting is simply independent and supports democracy and constitutional government.

Venezuela is strongly polarized with the television and print media owners generally presumed to be 

in the anti-Chávez camp. Said Carson in an e-mail to readers of his publication:

"I, personally, think that the period of our editorial  production and economic restrictions — which I trust will only be  short-lived — will give us pause for reflection as to how we can deal with  a constant barrage of ill-informed threats against our physical well-being  and the integrity of those who have worked so diligently over the last  seven years to bring news & views about Venezuela to our English-speaking readership."

Carson said the publication would reduce its news content to single-paragraph summaries of what is happening in Venezuela, but would not do extensive reporting or use graphics.

Chávez is facing what amounts to a recall vote, and political tension is on the upswing in the South American country.


 
Casino panel hears 
idea for commission

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special legislative commission to study betting and casinos heard Thursday suggestions for national laws and what amounts to a betting commission to regulate the chances of winning.

One person expressing his views was Federico Sosto, described in a legislative release as an expert in casinos. He was a witness before the Comisión Especial de Casinos that is considering legislation.

Sosto said there ought to be a state agency that sets the rules of the game in the various casinos. He also said the casinos should be controlled centrally. Now they are under the control of the  various municipalities.

Now the rules basically come from the operators of the casinos and betting centers which base their decisions on international norms, he said.

Deputy Carlos Herrera, a member of the commission, said that uniform regulations suggest a commission that would analyze the probabilities and specify, for example, the margin of retention for slot machines as well as the margin of winning. He said the same should apply to card games.

U.S. Senate approves
two free trade pacts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate has approved free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore in a legislative victory for the Bush administration. 

One week after the House approved the two trade pacts signed by the Bush administration, the Senate followed suit. 

Congress last year agreed to give the president the authority to negotiate trade accords that could be voted up or down by lawmakers, but not modified. 

Supporters of the two trade pacts, including Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, argue they will benefit American workers and consumers. 

"I support them because they open markets for exports of U.S. agricultural products, manufactured goods as well as services," he said. "I support them because they will create opportunities for job growth here in the United States." 

But opponents, mostly Democrats, argue the free trade agreements would result in lost U.S. jobs.  "More and more and more we see jobs in factories that are moved overseas that used to be good American jobs," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat. 

Other opponents say the accords would erode labor and environmental standards, an argument denied by supporters. Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, expressed his concerns. 

"These two agreements break new ground with the inclusion of specialized immigration provisions, which weaken existing safeguards against U.S. employers displacing American workers with lower-wage, non-immigrant visa holders," he said. 

Singapore and Chile join only four other nations, Canada, Mexico, Israel and Jordan, having free trade agreements with the United States.
 

Rios Montt OK’d
to seek old job

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The nation’s highest court has ruled that the country's former dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, may register as a candidate in November's presidential election. 

Wednesday's decision by the Constitutional Court overturns a recent ruling by the lower, Supreme Court, which suspended Rios Montt's candidacy. 

The Supreme Court's decision led to violent protests across Guatemala City last week. The disturbances forced the closure of government buildings and the U.S. Embassy in the capital and left one journalist dead. 

Demonstrators destroyed vehicles and storefronts as they demanded that Rios Montt be allowed to run in the November election. Guatemala's 1985 constitution bars former coup leaders from seeking the presidency. 

The constitutional prohibition has kept Rios Montt out of two previous presidential runs. Rios Montt seized power in 1982. During his 18-month rule, the Guatemalan military carried out an anti-insurgency campaign in which thousands of people were killed and hundreds of Indian villages destroyed. A 1999 report by a U.N.-backed commission accused Rios Montt of at least tolerating massacres by soldiers under his command while he was military ruler. 

However, the former dictator argued that he should not be bound by a law passed after he had served, a so-called ex post facto law that would be invalid in most countries.
 

Electrical outage
hits the downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A power outage of a little more than 90 minutes hit San José and points north about 5:45 p.m. Thursday.

In the downtown, the outages were inconsistent. For example the Fiesta Casino and a pastry store to the east were blacked out but a Kentucky Fried chicken store to the west was not.  Other blocks also showed similar inconsistencies.

Elsewhere, traffic was snarled because signal lights did not work. The outage went as far north as Tibás, readers said.

In the casino, slot machine players were left staring at darkened machines, some still containing winnings. At the nearby Musmanni pastry store, the clerks were more pragmatic or perhaps practiced. They just closed up the store.
 
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Air screeners narrow ways to use passenger data
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has narrowed the planned use of air passenger information in a new computer system designed to identify terrorists and other high-risk individuals before they board planes. 

In a news release Thursday, the department announced publication of a notice explaining action its Transportation Security Administration took to address privacy concerns expressed in response to its publicized intent to introduce the second generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System.

The sceening system will run information routinely provided by passengers during the reservation process against commercial databases to confirm a passenger's identity with a high degree of certainty, the department said.

Under the revised rules, the security administration will not allow commercial data providers to own, retain or commercially use passenger name records.

Passenger information used by screeners will not include bank, credit or medical records and will be deleted, for "almost all" passengers but a few high-risk individuals, "soon" after the trip is completed, the department said.

The notice also proposes to establish a passenger advocate office that would help passengers to correct any inaccurate information about them entered into the system, the department said.

Eliminated from a Jan. 15 Federal Register notice was language that led some to believe that large amounts of information about individuals would be collected and maintained for up to 50 years, said the agency.


 
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.


 
Costa Rica will buy and run former Dundee Ranch
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The national government Thursday approved the purchase of the Academy at Dundee Ranch, a former facility for troubled youth.

A spokesman said that the government plans to round up all the drugged-out street children and send them to a tough love program at the ranch, which is near Orotina.

Officials raided the ranch two months ago and effectively shut it down. The officials at the time said they liberated more than a hundred U.S. youngsters who were subjected to cruel conditions at the private camp.



Another humor effort


"That was then, this is now," said Ivan Rodonovich, the Russian disciplinarian hired by Costa Rica to shape up the street kids. "You can’t have hundreds of kids running all over the country robbing, stealing and selling and using drugs. At least not any more."

Rodonovich said soft-hearted Costa Ricans could not fully understand the scope of the street kids problem, adding "They thought the kids were out of ‘The Little Rascals,’" citing the 1920s movie shorts with Alfalfa and Spanky.

However, several key officials in Costa Rica’s children's welfare program recently melted in a 

heavy rain in San José, so the programs have been overhauled. A key event happened when a citizen remembered that President Abel Pacheco promised in a speech late last year that he would be the father of the street children if their own parents would not do the job.

The citizen filed a complaint against Pacheco after a gang of street thugs beat him senseless, took his wallet and watch and stole his shoes. "Hey, he took responsibility," said the citizen through his wired jaw.

Street children under 18 will be detained and sent to the camp where they will be awakened at 6 a.m., subjected to physical exercise for two hours, fed only nutritious meals, forced to attend academic classes and coerced into competitive sports.

Casa Alienation, an advocate for youngsters from 2 to 62, immediately protested the plan. Youngsters should be left alone and allowed to rob, steal and space themselves out on whatever drugs are available, said a spokesman.

However, the Dundee Ranch plan is not expected to do much to stem underage prostitution in Costa Rica. Most underage prostitutes are out on the street earning money at the request of their family, an official noted. 

"Child prostitution, indeed," said the spokesman. "Some of these teenyboppers are tougher than Sylvester Stalone."

According to White House official
Colombia cutting cocaine production dramatically
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Colombia has made considerable progress during the past year in the fight against narcotics and terrorism, and this progress is expected to affect the availability and purity of cocaine in the United States, according to John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

A week after meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as well as other Colombian and U.S. officials in Bogota, Walters outlined recent developments in Colombia's efforts against terrorism and narcotics in a briefing this week. 

Walters said the change in Colombia during 2002 has been "remarkable." He also noted that violence in Colombia has declined dramatically in 2003. Between January and June 2003 the incidence of terrorist attacks fell 53 percent, guerrilla assaults on rural civilian populations were down 61 percent, kidnappings dropped 34 percent, massacres were down 45 percent, and homicides fell 21 percent.

Efforts to combat illicit coca cultivation have also advanced in Colombia, the U.S. official said. He noted that illicit coca cultivation in the Putumayo region of Colombia, previously the world's epicenter for cocaine production, decreased by an additional 75 percent between September 2002 and early 2003, representing a 96-percent reduction since 2001.

Walters said he expects illicit coca cultivation in Colombia to continue to decline, in part as a result of the record number of hectares of coca that have been treated with herbicide. He noted 150,000 hectares of coca have been sprayed in Colombia since Uribe took office in August 2002. The 

"historic levels" of eradication have yielded similarly unprecedented results, Walters added.

"The effect has been to devastate the source of production as never before," he said. He indicated that the "massive" reduction of coca cultivation in Colombia is expected to cause "major disruptions" in the illicit U.S. narcotics market within the next six to 12 months, reducing availability and purity.

As Colombia's efforts to combat illicit coca cultivation continue, the nation's capacity to interdict illegal narcotics shipments is expected to be enhanced with the pending resumption of the Air Bridge Denial Program.

Following the accidental shoot-down by Peruvian authorities of an aircraft carrying U.S. missionaries on April 20, 2001, the Bush Administration suspended U.S. participation in and support for air interdiction programs in Colombia and Peru. 

Walters noted that after a close examination of the April 2001 tragedy and policies guiding the Air Bridge Denial Program, the United States and Colombia are in the final stages of negotiations aimed at re-starting the program. He said the goal of these current talks is to make certain that lessons have been learned from the tragedy and that the proper training is provided to create the safest possible environment for the resumption of the interdiction program. 

"We do not want to do harm to do good," Walters explained. He said he expects the air interdiction program in Colombia to resume in the next few weeks. 

"The job is to shrink [drug] production" by the illicit narcotics industry, to "put it out of business, not move it around," Walters said.

Japan likely to veto extradition of Alberto Fujimori 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TOKYO, Japan — Japan has confirmed that Peru has formally requested the extradition of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, to face charges of murder and corruption. 

But Japan has strongly indicated it will reject the request. Peru's ambassador to Japan lodged a formal extradition request Thursday in Tokyo. The 700-page document — translated into Japanese — alleges that Peru's former president, Alberto Fujimori — is to face trial in Lima for the massacre and kidnapping of civilians and official corruption during his 10 years in power. 

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, said his government will reject the request on legal grounds. Fukuda says Japan will respond in accordance with Japanese law. But he says as a general rule, a criminal on the run who has Japanese citizenship cannot be extradited by Japan.

Fujimori, whose parents were born in Japan, was granted citizenship in 2000, when he fled to Tokyo

during the collapse of his scandal-ridden government. He resigned his presidency by fax from his Japanese hotel. 

Peru's foreign minister, Alan Wagner, says the extradition request is reasonable and that "nationality cannot be an obstacle to justice." In addition, Japan has not acted on an INTERPOL request for the former Peruvian leader to be arrested. 

Fujimori has denied all of the charges against him. He is working as a part-time university lecturer. 

Diplomats say that Tokyo's refusal to honor the extradition request is likely to strain relations between Japan and Peru. Those relations were at their peak during Fujimori's presidency when Japan showered Peru with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loans, technical assistance and private investment, making it one of Japan's biggest recipients of foreign aid. 

But political observers here warn if Peru pushes Japan too hard on the extradition issue, it risks losing the badly-needed assistance. 


 
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