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These stories were published Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 153
Jo Stuart
About us

In Tamarindo, policeman's lot not a happy one
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It's rough being a cop in Tamarindo.  You start work at 7 a.m. and finish at 4 a.m. four days in a row.  Your station – if you win the ownership battle — is a one-room cabina that serves as kitchen, break room, dormitory and dispatch station. 

And for the three of you, there's only one car to patrol 3,000 people in four towns and surrounding communities, not counting the hundreds of tourists.  Luckily, this car actually starts without pushing, and on hot days — remember, we're in Tamarindo — you can roll down the windows. 

These are just some of the daily struggles Fuerza Pública officer Alexander Valles and his co-workers in Tamarindo put up with.

“What do we do if there's a robbery in Villareal but the car is in Santa Rosa?” he asks.  He says that another car is of utmost priority if they are to patrol their beat effectively.

In addition, their station sits on a property line and is the center of an ownership battle.  It may be demolished if the situation is not resolved, Valles said.   

The entire group of six officers has been working in Tamarindo for only a month or so, Valles said.  He said that the last group was transfered to another department because they were ineffective in Tamarindo. These were the officers who had to push their patrol car to make it start.

The situation in Tamarindo is typical of the many small-town police delegaciones all along the west coast of the Nicoya peninsula. Similar problems and shortages of resources exists even in famous tourist towns.

A year ago, stories were abundant of North Americans paying off police officers who happened upon a bit of mischief.

In May, this newspaper ran a story about the abundance of drugs in the town and the inability or unwillingness of police officers to do anything about it.  

“They didn't do anything,” said Valles.  “Our boss is very experienced," he said of Endir Blanco, the officer in charge.  "He never takes bribes,”  The six current officers are all young and graduates of the police academy, Valles said.  In addition, there is always at least one officer who speaks English on duty.  Valles is this group's translator and although he isn't fluent, his English is  

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Tamarindo station and patrol car

passable if a visitor speaks slowly and keeps the topic simple.

The Liberia native is eager to learn and said that mastering English is the reason he chose to work in Tamarindo.

However, the drug trade does not seem to have diminished.  Saturday night in Tamarindo is still smoky.  The Mambobar, a popular night spot with Ticos and Gringos alike, is nearly impossible to walk through without hearing “Hey man, what you need? Coca, mota?”

Valles seems willing to address the drug problem.  He said that much of the problem could be squashed with the implementation of a Drug awareness program, of a type that is popular in the United States.  He also advocated a community watch program where residents are responsible for keeping an eye on the town and reporting anything suspicious to the police, such as someone puffing mota or marijuana.

In addition to drug use, illegal immigration is rampant, he said, adding that Colombians or Nicaraguans drive a lot of the taxis in the area. The taxis themselves are mostly illegal, he said. He and his colleagues would welcome help from Immigration or the transit police, Valles said.

Also, he said that the principio de inocencia of Costa Rica is too strict.  He mistakenly believed that in the United States and Europe, the burden of proof fell to the defendant to prove his or her innocence.  When corrected, he still felt strongly that the laws in Costa Rica inhibit the police from effectively enforcing the laws. 

One such example he lists is the law that makes it illegal to detain a person for more than six hours.  If the person hasn't been connected with a crime, they must be turned lose, Valles said. 

“We have to change the laws so they are more effective, more drastic,” he said.  “We want to work, we want to help, but our hands are tied.”

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 153

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U.S. Earthquake Information Center graphic
Orange squares show where Wednesday quakes took place. The yellow square shows the estimated location of the Tuesday morning quake.

Ground dancing around
near Nicaraguan border

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ground under southern Nicaragua appears to be restless. Three earthquakes have hit within 24 hours. The magnitudes ranged from 4.1 to 6.3, according to the U.S National Earthquake Information Center.

All three took place while most Costa Ricans still were asleep, although at least the quake with the highest magnitude was felt in the Central Valley.

The first quake struck at 5:35 a.m. Tuesday. This was the 4.1 magnitude quake, and it was located just off the Nicaraguan coast and only a few miles north of the Costa Rican border.

Then Wednesday morning, at 3:27 a.m. a 5.0 quake took place, and the epicenter was on land but not far for the Nicaraguan coast.

Then some 96 minutes  later at 5:03 a.m. the 6.3 quake was registered in nearly the same area, some 30 to 40 kms (20 to 25 miles) east southeast of the city of Rivas. Both quakes were relatively shallow, some 10 kms. or 6 miles.

There were no reports of serious damage, although quakes of the higher magnitudes can cause destruction. However, the Tuesday quakes were of short duration.

Search for missing boat
still without success

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican coast guard was out at 3 a.m. Wednesday for another day in what is becoming a frustrating search for five persons missing in a small fishing boat since Friday.

Joining the search was a C-130 Hercules which took off Wednesday morning from a base in El Salvador. The aircraft is used to spot drug smugglers on the high seas, so it is equipped for this type of high-altitude search. The U.S. craft does not have permission to enter Costa Rican air space, so its crew was to concentrate their efforts on the high seas.

It was the patrol boat Juan Rafael Mora, based at the  Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas facility in Puntarenas that put to sea early Wednesday from Flamingo. It's goal was to search Costa Rican waters to the north of the Pacific community, which is the direction of the local currents.

Comisionada Kattia Chavarría, director of the Guanacaste region of the Fuerza Pública, said that part of her staff was continuing a ground and sea search. One of their procedures was to question the crews of as many ships as they could contact to see if any had seen the small fishing boat. None had.

The U.S. Navy was reported to have been conducting searches in Salvadoran waters. U.S. military craft also cannot enter Costa Rican territory or waters without the specific permission of the Asamblea Legislativa.

The missing boat, the King Fisher I, put to sea for a short tourist trip Friday at midday. questions have been raised in the Spanish-language press about the seaworthiness and the safety equipment aboard the boat. However, the husband of the U.S. honeymoon couple aboard, Mark Vockery, is a fire and safety instructor at Eastern Kentucky University. Friends do not think he would have gone to sea without at least a life jacket, particularly because he was in the company of his wife, Laura. Vockery also was reported to be a strong swimmer.

Even if the ship had suffered a massive structural failure and sank, searchers are perplexed as to why there would be no fuel slick or other floating evidence of the event.

Also missing are Captain Harold González Rodríguez, his brother Danilo González Rodríguez, both in their 20s, and Mayel Gómez Alanís, a 16-year-old.

Employees union rips
assembly president

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public employees union says the president of the Asamblea Legislativa is on the verge of committing a constitutional crime which approaches a coup d'etat.

The union leaders are outraged that the assembly president, Gerardo Alberto González Esquivel, has suggested that he would bring the proposed free trade treaty up for discussion in the legislature.

The union, the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, a strong opponent of the treaty, said González is playing with fire and launching a dangerous provocation. The union has vowed to call a national strike if the treaty goes to the assembly for discussion and possible ratification.

The union contends that only President Abel Pacheco has the power to submit the treaty to the legislature. The president has seemingly buckled to union pressure and has declined to forward the treaty to lawmakers.

In another free-trade related development Wednesday, Amparo Pacheco Oreamuno, a vice minister of Comercio Exterior, lost her job, presumably at the request of the president. She was a strong advocate for the free trade treaty and served on the team that negotiated the agreement.
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You gotta
be kidding!

On the highway from Santa Cruz to the Pacific beaches water has washed away part of one lane.

The obvious response is to erect a barrier with a ribbon and some branches.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling

Sarapiquí reforestation program is educational, too
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Sarapiquí Conservation Learning Center high school scholarship program is teaching high school students a lesson about grassroots forestry, community awareness and the impact humans have on conservation and the environment. 

Through workshops, hands-on learning, and field work, the center's reforestation program will teach more than 30 high school students about their community in terms of its physical and human environment, the importance of water to the area, and the significance of trees in the protection of water and providing wildlife corridors valuable for biodiversity conservation and tourism. 

The center is in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.

These students are beginning the process of reforesting the Chilamate area, a critical stretch of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.  Reforestation with native tree species will help to cement this stretch of the corridor and allow people in the Sarapiquí Region to benefit from rainforest conservation through sustainable wood production and habitat protection for wildlife of interest to ecotourism, said the center.

The program begins with community mapping to make connections between watershed and reforestation. 

Students learn about the importance of trees in riparian zones and the benefits of water quality.  A garden is being prepared for planting, along with a compost bin and dirt sifter.  Field trips focus on what types of trees should be planted for different conservation and production objectives.

To select planting sites, students will interview landowners to determine why they want to reforest.  The students have been focusing on the Sotacaballo tree, a leguminous tree that develops a wide root system and is thus one of the most commonly encountered trees along intact waterways in the Sarapiquí area, said the center. Students, along with parents, will plant these and other trees on local farms.  As a final component of the program, the students will track the growth of the trees, take tests to compare water quality, and review the program in order to apply the results to future planting sites.

Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center photo
Narcisa Hernández Suazo, a learning center high school scholarship student, fills a nursery bag in preparation for planting of native tree seedlings.

“The scholarship program is a great first step toward integrating the center with community development, environmental education, and conservation,” explained Greg Basco, director.  “Reforestation related to the biological corridor helps to put all of these efforts into a larger context.”
Since its inception in 1995, the Sarapiquí Conservation Learning Center has focused its mission on linking local communities and conservation through education and ecotourism in the Sarapiquí region.

The center has become a resource for the Sarapiquí community by providing and coordinating activities that will both enhance education and support sustainable development in surrounding areas.  Additional information is available on the center's Web site.

Hurricane season may turn out to be a record
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has increased the number of predicted storms in its 2005 hurricane season outlook.

According to a press release, the weather agency expects 11 to 14 more tropical storms from August through November, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, including three to five major hurricanes.

In total, the season will likely yield 18 to 21 tropical storms, with nine to 11 becoming hurricanes, including five to seven major hurricanes.

Although Costa Rica does not experience hurricanes directly, the weather patterns can bring torrential rains and other problems.

"The tropics are only going to get busier as we enter the peak of the season," said David Johnson, director of the agency's National Weather Service. "This may well be one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, and will be the ninth above-normal Atlantic hurricane season in the last 11 years."

Atmospheric and oceanic conditions that favor an active hurricane season are now in place.

"Warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperatures and low wind shear are among the culprits behind these stronger and more numerous storms," said Gerry Bell,
lead meteorologist on the Atlantic hurricane seasonal outlook.

Such a combination of optimal ocean and atmosphere conditions in the past has produced increased tropical storm activity in 20- to 30-year cycles. Because of this, the agency expects above-normal seasons to continue for another 10 years or longer.

The cycle that has contributed to increased Atlantic activity since 1995 has also produced a marked decrease in hurricanes in the eastern Pacific hurricane region. Similar conditions produced very active Atlantic hurricane seasons during the 1950s and 1960s.

An average Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, produces 10 named storms in which six become hurricanes, including two major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane outlook is a joint product of scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division and National Hurricane Center. Meteorologists use sophisticated numerical models and high-tech tools to forecast tropical storms and hurricanes.

The scientists rely on data gathered by agency and U.S. Air Force Reserve personnel who fly directly into storms in hurricane-hunter aircraft.

Bush appointee praises Uribe on eve of his visit
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Colombia has made important progress in a number of areas in the three years since President Alvaro Uribe took office, and future U.S. support for Colombia will build on this success, said R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of State for political affairs.

In remarks Wednesday to the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, Burns outlined Colombia's progress under Uribe as well as the future of U.S. support for Colombia.

Burns spoke on the eve of Uribe's planned visit to Crawford, Texas, to meet with President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Burns said that the United States has "no better partner in Latin America" than Uribe.  He added that with U.S. support, the Uribe administration has made great strides combating narco-traffickers and terrorists, strengthening Colombia's democracy, and improving the lives of the nation's citizens.

"President Uribe is transforming Colombia by
energetically pursuing his vision of a strongly democratic Colombia free from violence, drugs and corruption," Burns said.  "In a nation afflicted by over four decades of violence, the Uribe administration has achieved impressive progress on all fronts."

As evidence of this progress, Burns noted that Colombia's violent crime rate is at the lowest level in 16 years.  He pointed out that Colombia has also carried out an intensive campaign against the nation's illegal armed groups.

Burns observed that Colombia, under Uribe, has also amassed an impressive economic track record, including 4 percent growth, increased trade, a 70 percent increase in investment, and declining unemployment.  This strong track record, Burns said, is a major reason why the United States launched free-trade talks with Colombia, along with Peru and Ecuador.

Although Colombia remains a major source and transshipment country for illegal drugs, Burns noted that Colombia's counternarotics strategy has also enjoyed success.

Press freedom group unhappy with probe of Venezuelan editorial
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. —  An independent advocacy group for freedom of the press based here has criticized actions taken by the government of Venezuela against a newspaper.

The Inter-American Press Association criticized an announcement by Venezuela's attorney general that an official investigation would be opened regarding whether a July 25 editorial in the Venezuelan newspaper, El Universal, offends and exposes Venezuelan officials to public ridicule.

The press association described the Venezuelan government's action as "interference in the editorial policy of an independent newspaper and an affront to free speech and press freedom."

The opening paragraph of the editorial in question, which discusses the nation's justice system, says that "subordinating justice to ideology and depriving it of autonomy and effectiveness is like a train running off the rails.  The Attorney General's Office and courts are increasingly losing legitimacy."
Gonzalo Marroquín, the Inter-American Press Association's chairman of Freedom of the Press and Information, said the new action by the Venezuelan government against El Universal "demonstrates once again the existence of an ongoing government strategy against freedom of the press," which has already "increased sanctions for critics of public officials."

Marroquín, editor of the Guatemalan daily newspaper Prensa Libre, added that the "resistance of Venezuelan officials and their rejection of criticism is notable and shows a lack of awareness of the valuable role the press plays in a democratic society.  Democracy demands a particularly high tolerance for criticism, especially when dealing with opinions that should be refuted and debated on equal terms."

Also, "intimidating the news media, through investigations or threats of conducting investigations and imposing punishment, is nothing less than an abuse of governmental privilege," Marroquín said. 

"The ultimate aim of these intimidating actions is to limit freedom of the press and the right of the Venezuelan people to be informed."

Jo Stuart
About us
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