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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 152
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez
The long night
for pilgrims

Thousands bedded down at the Basilica of the Virgen de los Angeles in anticipation of a Roman Catholic Mass Monday. We have more photos 


Leading bishop asks pardon for priest-abusers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Roman Catholic church leader asked the nation’s forgiveness Monday for the sexual abuse committed by priests.

The leader, Bishop José Francisco Ulloa, heads the episcopal conference which is the church’s governing council. 

He told a gathering of worshippers and dignitaries in Cartago that the marks of these abuses would not be erased easily in the communities where they took place or with the victims. He promised that the church would not tolerate or cover up the cases following the dictates of Pope John Paul II.

The bishop spoke during a Mass celebrating the day of the Virgin de los Angeles, the patroness of Costa Rica. He was referring to several cases in which molestations by priest have come to light.

One case involves Enrique Vásquez Vargas, a priest who fled the country in 1998 after he was accused of abusing an altar boy. He has been in flight since but he has obtained positions elsewhere, including the United States and Honduras.

Vásquez was a priest in the Santa Rosa de Lima Parish in Buenos Aires de Pocosol and was supervised by the bishop in Ciudad Quesada, Ángel San Casimiro. That bishop has admitted knowing where Vásquez was and declining to inform authorities.

President Abel Pacheco was nearby as Ulloa delivered his apology during his sermon. The bishop also said that the 800 or so priests who work in the country were honorable and that the abusers could be counted on one’s fingers.

The president also heard the bishop attack the morning-after pill as mere abortion. The pill is being studied by the Ministerio de Salud for possible use here.

Ulloa said that the government was violating the Constitution by considering a pill that could end life.

The Mass was the highpoint of the festivity for the patroness of Costa Rica. Perhaps as many as two million persons journeyed to the city and the basilica during the last week. 

There were few incidents during the three-day weekend, although more than 2,000 sought some medical help, mostly for sore muscles.

Comandante Carlos Figueroa of the Fuerza Pública in Cartago characterized the pilgrimages and the long weekend as one of the most calm in recent memory. He and other police officials credit the peaceful pilgrimage to hard work by officers. Some 34 persons were arrested, mostly for property offenses.

The most serious event was a stabbing about 4 a.m. Monday in the vicinity of the basilica. Alejandro Vázquez Calvo, the victim, suffered a stab wound in the stomach, perhaps as the result of a dispute. No suspect was caught.


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Diver dies in mishap
with motor boat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 17-year-old scuba diver died Monday when a motor boat appears to have struck him with the propeller of its motor.

The dead youth was identified as Berny Fajardo Sánchez of Barrio Los Congrejos in Limón. The accident happened at Playa Bonita de Limón.

The three men in the boat carried the youth to shore, but it was too late. They have been detained for questioning.

Woman fatally stabbed,
companion surrenders

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 32-year-old Barranca mother of two died early Sunday when her male companion stuck her repeatedly with a knife.

The woman is Maricela Segura Segura, said the Fuerza Pública. The suspect is a 21-year-old man with the last names of Vilchez Villegas. The couple had lived together for a year, police said.

The murder took place in the woman’s home in Palmas del Río, Barranca. Her companion met police with the cry that he had killed his woman, they said.

A girl, 13, and a boy, 8, survive. They were with grandparents at the time of the murder.

Abducted children
home in Kentucky

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two children abducted in the United States have been located in Paraguay and reunited with their mother in Kentucky.

The Department of State’s bureaus of Consular Affairs and Diplomatic Security were involved.

The children, ages 6 and 3, are American citizens. The children’s father had abducted them from their home June 29 and taken them to live with his girlfriend in Paraguay. The father returned to the United States. When he failed to surrender the children to their mother, Kentucky police arrested him.

The search for the children took a positive turn earlier this month after the Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Children's Issues notified the U.S. Embassy in Asunción that the children might be in Paraguay. A Diplomatic Security special agent at the embassy located the children at the girlfriend's home, and worked with local authorities to remove the children from the girlfriend’s custody and return them to their mother.

A Diplomatic Security special agent escorted the children back to the United States and reunited them with their mother July 25.

Pimping suspects
jailed for three months

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judge in the Juzgado Penal de San José has ordered three months preventative detention for three persons held after raids on prostitution parlors last week.

Held are two men with the last names of Chacón Carballo and Sánchez Padilla and a woman with the last names of Gutiérrez Suazo. They face charges of pimping, which is illegal here.

Raided was New Fantasy on Avenida 9, Barrio Amon, and La Bella Mansión on Avenida 11 between calles 1 and 3.

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A.M. Costa Rica
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.

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Noriega paints glowing picture of Latin America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many Latin American nations have made enormous progress in building democracy and promoting prosperity over the past 20 years, but difficulties still lie ahead, according to Roger Noriega. 

He is assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

In remarks Friday at the University of California Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, Noriega tried to dispell what he said were common misperceptions of the hemisphere's political and economic reality, outlined progress in the region.

Noriega rebutted the assertion that democracy and economic liberalization have failed in Latin America. In contrast to 20 years ago, he said, the vast majority of Latin Americans live today under leaders of their choosing. Furthermore, he pointed out that a U.N. human development index shows that the quality of life has improved in nearly every country in the region since 1980.

"There can be no doubt that democracy and economic liberalization have altered the landscape for the better," he said.

Noriega added that although Latin Americans may question the ability of their politicians and institutions to deliver a better quality of life, they have not lost their faith in democracy. 

The State Department official also dismissed the notion that a hemispheric development fund is needed to bolster poverty reduction efforts.

Noriega observed that U.S. trade with, investment in and remittances to the region dwarf U.S. assistance programs to Latin America, and such trade is "incomparably larger," in monetary terms, than any conceivable foreign-aid fund. Therefore, he said, "the proper use of U.S. assistance should be to precisely focus upon helping our neighbors take advantage of the inevitably much larger trade, investment, remittance, and general development opportunities of the future, as well as use the funds they already have at hand . . . . "

Another assertion Noriega rebutted is that Latin America cannot tackle corruption until poverty is eradicated.

"Poverty should not serve as an excuse for tolerating corruption," he said. "Rather, corruption should be more energetically and effectively attacked — both as a matter of justice and as a crucial measure to accelerate development."

Noriega said that most of the leaders understand the problems confronting the region and are trying to govern justly, fund social development and promote economic freedom. 

He warned, however, that these efforts alone might not be sufficient.

Financial centers handle attack threats in stride
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Financial industry employees in New York, Washington, and New Jersey returned to work as usual Monday, a day after the U.S. government warned that al-Qaida could be planning an attack on key financial targets.

Security has been tightened around the five potential targets mentioned in the alert —  the New York Stock Exchange, New York's Citigroup Center; the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, and the Prudential Building in Newark, New Jersey.

In New York, authorities have barred commercial trucks and vans from crossing bridges and tunnels into the city's financial district. Meanwhile, extra police are patrolling around the International 

Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington

Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge urged residents to be vigilant but to go about their business Monday, saying intelligence has given no time-frame for a possible attack. Sunday, Ridge raised the national terror alert level in Washington from elevated to high. New York continues at the high level.

A senior U.S. intelligence official says the move was based on intelligence that found that al-Qaida had gathered information on the buildings that was "chilling" in its scope and detail. 

The official says that among other details, operatives studied whether the buildings had features that would make them likely to withstand an explosion.

Paraguay begins probe into why exits were locked
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — Recovery efforts are continuing after a fire in this capital on Sunday killed more than 300 people. 

As Paraguay begins a three-day mourning period, the owners of the supermarket that erupted in flames sit in jail, awaiting questions about whether they ordered the doors of the building locked to deter shoplifting and looting. 

The three owners deny the charges, but eyewitnesses claim that some exits had been locked and welded shut, trapping hundreds of people inside the burning building. 

The fire started at midday Sunday after gas canisters exploded inside the three-story supermarket that was filled with shoppers and diners. An investigation into what caused the 

explosion and the allegations of locked emergency exits is under way. 

Aid workers from neighboring Argentina and Brazil have arrived to help alleviate the strain on Paraguay's emergency service workers. Countries from around the world have sent their condolences to President Nicanor Duarte and offered to provide medicine and supplies.

Hospitals in the capital are working at full capacity, as they cope to deal with the hundreds of people suffering from burns. Nearby schools, churches and a discotheque are being used as makeshift morgues. 

Funerals have already been held for some of the victims. Officials say several more days will be needed to identify bodies found in rubble, but many of the victims were burned beyond recognition in the nation's deadliest fire.

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This air photo taken by police officials Saturday shows the faithful beginning to gather in strength at the Basilica de la Virgen de los Angeles.

Photo courtesy of the Ministerio de Seguirda Pública — Guillermo Solano

A weekend of pilgrimage to Cartago and the Virgin

In the photos below, photographer José Pablo Ramírez records scenes from Sunday night 

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez
Worshippers who enter the center aisle of the basilica are required to do so on their knees. Meanwhile, outside (right), the crowd settles in. 
A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez


A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez
The lucky ones got spots on the floor inside the basilica to sleep. Fortunately for the rest, no rain fell Sunday night.

Jo Stuart
About us
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